Santa’s workshop seeks ransomware recovery after Christmas attack

by Stephanie Mangold.

The night before Christmas brings excitement and joy as families cozy together to enjoy holiday cheer and merriment. But imagine, if deep in the North Pole, surrounded by hand-crafted toys, Santa’s Workshop was experiencing a crisis. Santa had been hit by ransomware while the clock ticked down — would he be able to resume his business operations in time to begin his yearly toy delivery, or did the threat actors succeed in ransoming Christmas?

Early in the evening on Christmas Eve, the elves went to print out the Naughty/Nice list and delivery manifest. Instead, they found the Santa’s Workshop network inaccessible with all files encrypted. The combination of old, outdated software, unpatched security vulnerabilities, and a naughty elf who fell for a phishing scheme exposed their credentials and allowed an attacker to access Santa's Workshop network. Unfortunately, ransomware attacks can happen suddenly to any organization, and this attack left Christmas in danger.

Over the years, Santa’s Workshop grew from a small to midsize business into a global operation with a complex supply chain. Building toys remained a hands-on process managed diligently by the elves, but ordering, scheduling, and tracking transitioned to a digital system. Santa also had to implement various technical solutions to generate his Naughty/Nice list, utilizing various cloud technology services to gather, analyze, and store the data. Simply put, Santa and the elves found themselves fully immersed in a digital world for which they were unprepared. Santa, who is not cyber-savvy, failed to implement a cybersecurity training program or adequate cyber risk mitigation controls. In a rush to produce toys for Christmas, the elves shared and reused passwords and neglected to implement security patches on their network as they didn’t understand the threats they faced as a modern digital business.

Thankfully, the Head Elf, Elfis, had a feeling that they should do more to protect themselves at Santa’s Workshop. Elfis remembered reading articles about ransomware and how it was taking down businesses of all sizes, so she signed up for a Coalition cyber insurance policy. When the elves discovered the ransom, there arose such a commotion that Elfis sprang from her office — discovering the situation, she immediately called Coalition.

Coalition Incident Response (CIR) responded within minutes of receiving Elfis’ call, springing into action to coordinate with Elfis and determine how to restore business operations in time. Elfis had implemented an offline data backup but had not tested it since Thanksgiving. CIR recommends implementing offline backups of your business-critical information and regularly testing them to ensure recovery is an option — ideally before an incident occurs. Luckily for Elfis, CIR restored Santa’s Workshop from the backups, though this is not always the case. Once the workshop’s data was restored, Coalition also set up an endpoint detection and recovery (EDR) tool to ensure the threat actors haven’t compromised any other assets on the network and detect any future attempts to breach Santa’s Workshop.

With the network restored, ​​Santa and the elves hustled to load the presents without further delay and sent Santa off to begin his official Christmas deliveries. Elfis called a huddle and explained that while Coalition had restored their operations and they could celebrate, they had serious work to do before preparing for next year’s toy making. First, there would be cybersecurity training for all of Santa’s little helpers, followed by implementing best practices to keep Santa’s Workshop operational in a world full of digital risks.

And the threat actor? Not only were their plans to ransom Christmas sufficiently thwarted, but they wound up on the naughty list permanently.