Black Basta Ransomware Group Claims Hack of UK Water Utility Southern Water

The Black Basta ransomware group has added the UK’s Southern Water as a victim on their Tor based data leak site, and have threated to publish stolen data if ransom demands are not met by February 29, 2024. “Southern Water is a private utility company responsible for collecting and treating wastewater in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent, and for providing public water supply to approximately half of this area” (Security Affairs, 2024). The company provides water to a large portion of the UK, and employs over 6,000 people. Black Basta is known to carry out double extortion tactics against victims, encrypting files and stealing data to publish on their leak site. The group claims to have stolen 750 gigabytes of sensitive data, including users’ personal documents and corporate documents. Included in their public listing are proofs of the attack, including screenshots of passports, ID cards, and personal information of some employees.

Security Officer Comments:
Ransomware operators have once again targeted critical infrastructure. These sort of victims may have higher incentives to meet ransom demands, and can have catastrophic impacts to cities, regions, and countries depending on the target. While attacks against critical infrastructure entities can place an adversary under more intense law enforcement responses, many ransomware groups have continued to target these organizations despite the risk. In 2023, our metrics showed Black Basta carried out 114 attacks, making it the 6th most impactful ransomware group by volume of attacks. The group has carried out several attacks against high profile targets and is known to go after critical infrastructure entities.

Suggested Corrections:
Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.

Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk- based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.

Test your incident response plan: There's nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?

Check Your Security Team's Work: Use a 3rd party pen tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.

Segment your networks: There's been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It's critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure ICS networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.

Train employees: Email remains the most vulnerable attack vector for organizations. Users should be trained how to avoid and spot phishing emails. Multi Factor authentication can help prevent malicious access to sensitive services.