On March 22, 2017, the FBI issued a Private Industry Notification, warning that criminal actors are actively targeting File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers operating in “anonymous” mode and associated with medical and dental facilities to “access protected health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII) in order to intimidate, harass, and blackmail business owners.” FTP’s are used to transfer information between various parties. When an FTP is placed in anonymous mode, it allows a user to authenticate the FTP server with a common username such as “anonymous” or “ftp” without submitting a password or by submitting a generic password or e-mail address.
The FBI warns that cyber criminals could use an FTP server in anonymous mode to store malicious tools or launch targeted cyber attacks. Therefore, “any misconfigured or unsecured server operating on a business network on which sensitive data is stored or processed exposes the business to data theft and compromise by cyber criminals who can use the data for criminal purposes such as blackmail, identify theft, or financial fraud.”
The FBI recommends medical and dental healthcare entities request their respective IT services personnel to check networks for FTP servers running in anonymous mode. If businesses have a legitimate use for operating a FTP server in anonymous mode, administrators should ensure sensitive PHI or PII is not stored on the server.
The FBI encourages businesses to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local FBI office or the FBI’s 24/7 Cyber Watch.
A copy of the notification can be found here.