Cyber attack heroes

Dec 1, 2020 | Protagonists

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In the corporate world, things do not happen by chance, nor because someone – no matter how big a boss it may be – wants it. They happen because they are planned, as we have seen in the cyberattack chronicle and, above all, because there are people who make them happen. And in MAPFRE we know a lot about people who look after… the company. All the MAPFRE employees formed part of the solution, as we tackled the computer attack launched in Spain last August, protecting the company’s reputation and helping overcome the crisis, each according to our responsibilities. But there are just over 200 professionals who are intimately linked to everything that happened from that August 14 onward. They are a multidisciplinary team of heroes represented here by the firsthand account of their colleagues from the areas and units most directly involved. This is their story.

Not a single day passed without us receiving selfless offers of help

Carlos remembers well that moment and how swiftly action was taken. “When the attack began, the Si24 services were affected and a High Impact Incident was declared. From that point on, we were already aware that something was happening, thanks to official incident reports and WhatsApp messages. In less than ten minutes we had already set up the Incident Crisis Committee and, once the severity of the incident was verified, this was repeated in the other ACTP, ACS and IT groups in Spain. Our dedication knew no bounds. Despite being on vacation, all the team members who were available joined the task force over that weekend in order to restore a quality service to our customers as soon as possible.”

This crisis made us stronger, given that we are now more aware of our strengths and weaknesses. We must turn the latter into opportunities to further increase our resilience. MAPFRE already had a strategy for workstation evolution and mobility defined by People and Organization and the IT areas during 2020. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cyberattack, it proved to be a sound, successful one. It is worth underscoring the plan developed beforehand and, of course, the work of all our colleagues in these areas, as without them and their endeavors this success story would not have been possible.

Carlos Muñoz

Carlos Muñoz

Technology Manager Delivery Unit Datacenter

During the toughest times following the cyberattack, not one day passed without us receiving selfless offers
of help and words of encouragement from other MAPFRE colleagues. This was certainly part of the success story regarding the restoration of services, demonstrating we are a great company made up of faithful, collaborative, generous employees. That is why MAPFRE is a great company.

Overnight we were set a new challenge and we proved capable of resolving it

Hearing the word “cyberattack” was like when a doctor gives you a serious diagnosis; you’ve no idea what to do, but no doubt you should trust the specialist. And that’s what we did. We put ourselves in the hands of our Technology colleagues. We followed all their indications, we tried what worked and what didn’t, and we could only use our phones. And critical services came to mind. What about the medical emergencies? And deaths? And roadside assistance? And household emergencies? And that’s how we spent that first night. Teamwork, engagement and commitment were key.

This cyberattack resulted in our being unable to deliver the kind of service we wanted for a period of time. This is a crucial matter, given that there are subtle differences between the customer service offered by each company, and consistency and reliability are certainly high on the list.

The truth is that, looking back, it was a thrilling time; overnight, we were set a new challenge and we proved capable of resolving it. I really must underscore the support we received from the teams at the Operations Competency Center and the SAU, as, without them, we couldn’t have managed it.

Elisa Pomeda

Elisa Pomeda

Telephone Support Manager At MAPFRE España

In this technological world, where we have so many automated routines and we start solving certain situations using artificial intelligence, we cannot forget that values such as responsibility, commitment and loyalty – solely present in people – are the values that will enable us to get through these critical, complicated situations.

The muscle is exercised

That Friday night in August, there were very few of us working and so it was up to those of us holding the fort in August to send for the “cavalry”. The response from our colleagues was spectacular; in no time at all, they were up and running, working on all the fronts we had to tackle.

2020 has been a very complicated year in which, unfortunately, we’ve had to put into practice everything that had only ever been tried out under test conditions, never in real situations. Never in our most pessimistic dreams could we have imagined something with this level of impact. Even so, we can draw highly positive conclusions from both cases: the existing set procedures (contingency plans at all levels, regularly tried and tested), knowledge (of the complex technological environment and the service it provides to business), together with the response capacity of the whole company, enabled us to come through both situations. I don’t believe this was coincidence or a question of luck, given that the muscle is exercised and in both cases found us “in good shape”, more so in August given the previous experience dealing with COVID-19.

I recommend visiting the section “People Space > My Day-to-Day > Information Security” on the Global Intranet, where there is really useful information designed to help us understand what kind of security threats exist and how we, as users, can help minimize the hazards posed by this problem.

Juan Manuel García

Juan Manuel García

Technology Manager. Delivery Unit. Workstations And Collaboration DCTP

Not everything worked the first time round, or as we would have liked, from the very start, but it was much easier with everyone’s help and support. Regrettably, this threat of cyberattacks is here to stay and there will be more times we need to pull together.

One of the best decisions made was to act swiftly and be fully transparent

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was taking a walk with my children shortly before 10 pm on August 14 when I received an email from Guillermo Llorente with a rather descriptive subject line “URGENT – Ransomware Attack”. Before I could even open the email, I’d already taken a call to attend a meeting at ten. From that moment events developed at breakneck speed and I raced back to Madrid to help in any way I possibly could.

We learned the hard way that we weren’t prepared for an attack of these characteristics; in fact no one is anywhere in the world and we were thus forced to urgently enhance our security capabilities. And, of course, it highlighted the importance of having robust, proven contingency plans.

The attack we suffered was much more than a technological incident and could easily have affected our reputation and the trust our clients place in MAPFRE. One of the best decisions made was to act swiftly and be fully transparent about what was happening to us I’d like to ask employees for their comprehension and patience, as this situation will inevitably lead to an increase in several of our security controls. As was clearly seen, we have adversaries with really nasty ideas, who are just waiting for any error or vulnerability to cause MAPFRE serious damage.

The year 2020 is proving tremendously demanding for the whole company. No one could have predicted a global pandemic and a ransomware attack in the same year. From the viewpoint of the technological deployment to allow everyone to work from home, I remember those really intense days when our colleagues in the Corporate Security Division did a spectacular job.

Chema García Rodríguez

Chema García Rodríguez

Assistant Security Manager. Security Technology Architecture

I cannot be more grateful and proud of the people I worked with throughout that tremendously intense period. The level of commitment, dedication, understanding of the situation, patience, etc. shown by the various areas – security, technology, business – and by the external providers was amazing and makes me tremendously proud of the place where I work.

This experience has united us and strengthened us much more as a team

First minute of surprise (given the type of attack – ransomware), concern and then, business as usual: roll up your sleeves. In my case, I was due to start my vacation with my family. Instead, what we did was cancel my plans and urgently prepare the infrastructure in the vacation home so I could telework, given that the coverage is very poor in that area, until we could organize ourselves to return to Madrid. I believe the human learning process is the best, given that the criminals attacked MAPFRE and, perhaps, what they did not expect was an institutional, transparent, forceful response: MAPFRE does not give in to blackmail. MAPFRE closed ranks and garnered strength, rebuilding itself again with a great deal of suffering, endeavor and dedication; I believe this is what sets us apart and, perhaps, what they didn’t count on. Not only did they attack MAPFRE as a corporate entity, they attacked our HOUSE, our FAMILY. That’s what gave us all the strength we needed and, with that sense of belonging, we pulled together to defend ourselves.

Right across the company we must approach the need to prepare ourselves – each of us within our possibilities – for the new technological scenario we find ourselves in. Most of us – not being digital natives, given when we were born or grew up – are accustomed to technology being something we don’t really understand and thus suffer to a certain degree. We must accept that, for better or worse, technology now forms part of almost everything we do; we must make the effort to enhance our skills so we can feel more comfortable with it, lose our fear and make better use of it.

Marisa Maíz López

Marisa Maíz López

User Support Manager Operations Manager MAPFRE España

We MAPFRE people are of strong spirit and that is half the battle in this struggle that is life; it is a precious thing, but it doesn’t make things easy for us, and 2020 is a fine example. So we have no choice but to keep up the fight.

Why did this cyberattack take place and why precisely at this moment in time?

The Global SOC Security and Environment Manager, Daniel Largacha, offers a full explanation:

“In the early days of the Internet, cybercrime primarily targeted the banking sector, given how easy it was to monetize the attacks; they stole access keys and were able to secure financial gain. Over time, however, the banking sector greatly strengthened its defenses and cybercriminals sought new ways to monetize attacks. In this search, they struck gold with other companies, as there is much less maturity in cybersecurity matters outside the banking sector. In addition, it is really difficult to trace cybercrimes, due to both the emergence of cryptocurrencies and the lack of global legislation or accords that could facilitate the persecution of these attacks. And, finally, the companies are now hugely dependent on digital information and online networks.

This has led to a new crime model, where cybercriminals encrypt company data and servers, before demanding payment in order to regain access to them. Everything was perfectly thought out; it is no coincidence that the attack on MAPFRE happened on a Friday evening in August, as they knew that there would be fewer staff available to deal with this situation than at any other time. And, as Carlos Muñoz added, they knew that this threat was huge because the attack was going to “Affect MAPFRE’s reputation, depriving clients of our quality service in a period when most of them use their vehicle and the probability of needing our services increases exponentially.”

Everyone gave 200 percent to address the problems

The first few days were really intense, as the attack took place just as the vacations were starting. I remember a call from Daniel Largacha (manager of CERT Global) during the night, informing me that Windows computers had been encrypted and that we were still trying to determine the operational impact. From that moment on, we got down to work and all those involved in handling the incident started holding meetings simultaneously. I postponed all commitments and remained on call day and night to help resolve the issue.

They certainly chose August as it is the vacation period and insurance is critical at such times. But despite being off work, the whole of MAPFRE responded to the attack and did everything possible to maintain the service for our clients. We learned that we can survive a major security incident, even in the context of a global pandemic and having to work remotely. With endeavor and dedication, and committed personnel ready and willing to help, we can overcome any difficulties.

It is crucial that each of us does our bit when it comes to protecting that confidential information we are aware we handle, carefully analyzing that email we receive or that website we are asked to open. Whenever we are suspicious about something, we must notify the Corporate Security and Environment Division through the established channels.

The important thing is that everyone gave 200 percent to address the issues and, for that very reason, we know that, in the face of any difficult situations in the future, they will do the same. That’s important and a source of pride for the organization, for the company.

Omar Rodríguez Soto

Omar Rodríguez Soto

Ethical Hacking and Cyberintelligence Corporate Security Division

You can’t control those who decide to attack you, but their acts you can. Change often begins at the individual level; when you find yourself in a complicated situation, instead of pointing out the things that fail, it’s important to do everything possible to resolve the situation and remove any obstacles along the way.

I felt it was admirable the courage mapfre showed going public about the situation

It really impacted me and it will be a moment I’ll always remember. Just imagine, right in the middle of the summer vacation, I could hardly believe the call I was receiving. Despite this sense of disbelief and uncertainty, we got down to work almost without thinking, so as to minimize the damage and collaborate with the other teams. This was something the cybercriminals had not anticipated.

In MAPFRE we were already preparing a new model for operating both remotely and in situ; thanks to this, our plans in this area were fairly advanced, although this situation meant that we had to accelerate them exponentially.

It is essential that we all follow the indications and recommendations of our Corporate Security Division given via the various channels, as they are the true experts in this field. And, as employees, it is our responsibility to comply with and foment these guidelines, as I’m convinced of their effectiveness. I felt it was admirable the courage MAPFRE showed going public about the situation we were experiencing; I feel truly proud of belonging to this great family.

Patricia Mochales Sen

Patricia Mochales Sen

Technology Manager. IT Territorial Management, Implementation and Workplace

Jeff Bezos once said: “If you decide that you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table”. As regards the workplace, MAPFRE has introduced a new technology that will be of great help if and when it is required, given the uncertainty that still reigns; we believe in it and are working tirelessly to ensure we all render the best possible service to our clients.

This situation revealed incredible moments of professionalism, dedication and solidarity

The vacations were already a bit strange given the current pandemic, but our initial reaction was a certain degree of incredulity. After such difficult months, how could something like that be happening to us! The worst thing for me was the uncertainty of the first few hours; information on the true extent trickled in more slowly than we all wanted and our obsession was to get back to normal as soon as possible, with the guarantee that we would not be attacked again. But there was no alternative. So we gritted our teeth and the whole team gave their all, bringing out the best in themselves – a true example of dedication!

We’ve learned a great deal! It seems harsh to say this, as we don’t want anyone to have to go through this, but from a strictly professional point of view this situation has greatly enriched us: it revealed incredible moments of professionalism, dedication and solidarity, and we have acquired so much knowledge of this kind of problem, and even of our own internal ecosystem, that we are even better prepared to tackle anything in the future.

Unfortunately, total protection does not exist. As a result, the informative efforts of our colleagues in the Corporate Security Division are truly magnificent, as they help us understand the best practices and attitudes we must all adopt in our professional, personal and family spheres.

Alfredo G. Castañeda Sarachaga

Alfredo G. Castañeda Sarachaga

Actp - Sic - Network Technology and Contact Center

In such tough times, in addition to keeping calm, we must never lose our capacity for self-criticism, nor our sense of humor. The former leads us to excellence, while the latter helps us put things in perspective and makes us happier!

They did no t expect an institutional, transparent, forceful response

TWe have to protect the company from cyberthreats

In my case I was on paternity leave and, from the very outset, I had a good idea of the gravity of the situation. That’s why, without waiting for a more complete picture, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family, activated my team and headed for Majadahonda.

The fact is that handling this kind of situation is part and parcel of my job. All those of us who work in any kind of crisis management environment know that, while the possibility is remote, you may have to spring into action at any given moment. Fortunately for me, MAPFRE decided some time ago to have people ready to deal with such extreme scenarios. This kind of situation really puts you to the test, letting you see your weaknesses, but also your strengths. MAPFRE has shown that it has a human team and the resources needed to provide it with tremendous resilience. This enabled us to recover within a more than reasonable time frame.

Just as we protect our company from other risks (unprofitable customers, competition within the industry, poor suppliers, etc.) we need to protect the company from cyberthreats.

The lockdown was a great challenge for MAPFRE and yet another example of its ability to adapt swiftly to a changing environment. We were also on the front line in that scenario and, as in the cyberattack, I was impressed by the capacity, professionalism and willingness to help shown by all our personnel. Different areas aligned their tasks and coordinated fully to achieve a highly ambitious, challenging goal: in just two weeks, enable the whole company worldwide to work efficiently from home. I never tire of saying how proud I am to work in a company with this fantastic team.

Daniel Largacha

Daniel Largacha

Global Soc Security and Environment Manager

I like to be positive and, what’s more, I feel you learn from both good and bad. I’d go so far as to say that we’ve come through this attack much stronger than before; the experience and the resources MAPFRE made available enable us to face the future from a much more favorable, optimistic position.

This was no time to worry, but rather to deal with the situation

It’s difficult to describe that moment, but it’s one of those etched into my memory. While all those of us who work on security issues are aware that such extreme situations can occur, you really don’t expect them to materialize, let alone catch you off guard in the middle of the summer vacations.

In my case, I was with my family in Oviedo and, that Friday, when I received the call, a whole array of thoughts and feelings flooded over me. The first thing I thought about was the impact on operating systems and information availability, and, at the same time, another priority issue: protecting our clients’ data and how all this could affect that data and the company’s reputation.

We had no doubt that this was no time to worry, but rather to deal with the situation. A swift response is the key, an essential factor when managing such crises. Teamwork is fundamental, as is counting on colleagues like those we are lucky enough to have, with their incredible professionalism and, above all, a level of commitment and human quality that is hard to beat. Thanks to all this, we can now refer to this situation in the past tense.

One of the things we’ve learned is that the improbable can happen and we must be prepared for the unthinkable. Our reaction and adaptive capacity must be ever greater and response times progressively slashed. Hence the importance of having good contingency and business continuity plans in place. Plans that, with or without coronavirus, have always been – and must be – subjected to a continual updating and enhancement process. Cybercriminals are becoming extremely creative, devising new ways to take advantage of users and making greater use of increasingly innovative technologies.

Elena Mora Gonzalez

Elena Mora Gonzalez

Directora de Protección y Privacidad del Dato

We must ensure that all employees act as effective human firewalls denying access to the cybercriminals and that is why we must raise awareness and get everyone involved in the task of complying with company guidelines and policies.
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