Federal Agencies Sound Alarm On Widespread Log4j Cybersecurity Flaw: How Should Organizations Respond? – Technology

Cindy F. Cape

As a result of the recently discovered vulnerability in the
commonly used programming code known as Log4j, almost all
organizations in all industry sectors face potentially significant
reputational, economic and legal risks. Given the low level of
sophistication required to exploit the flaw—one described by
Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) director
Jen Easterly as “one of the most serious I’ve seen in my
entire career, if not the most serious”—a range of
malicious actors, from amateur cybercriminals to nation-state
cyber-hacking organizations, could use it to wreak damage upon
computer systems powering everything from essential utilities to
consumer electronics. Indeed, Microsoft reported that the
vulnerability was being used by multiple nation-state groups
originating from China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkey, and the
Belgian Defense Ministry confirmed a December 13 Log4j-related
attack prompted it to shut down portions of its computer

Hackers generally have exploited the vulnerability for the
purpose of crypto-mining, credential theft, and data exfiltration.
Although fallout from the vulnerability is in its nascent stages,
it is clear that Log4j may very well match if not exceed the level
of threat to security in the US and abroad, businesses’
wellbeing, and privacy of consumer data posed by the December 2020
SolarWinds attack. To safeguard company and customer data, reduce
the risk of business interruption, and minimize potential liability
in connection with future civil suits and/or enforcement actions,
organizations should take steps now and over the coming months to
actively assess this threat and deploy effective mitigation and
prevention measures.           

What is Log4j?

Log4j, created by volunteers within the Apache Software
Foundation, is a Java-based logging library that can be run across
platforms such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Apple’s MacOS.
These libraries create records of computing activity that are then
reviewed by engineers to troubleshoot issues or track data within
their programs. By exploiting the Log4j flaw, bad actors can seize
control of an affected system and accomplish any number of harmful
goals. Log4j’s ubiquity renders the vulnerability especially
dangerous, as it is present in web servers ranging from those
powering HVAC systems to those used in the operation of the popular
sandbox video game Minecraft.

Key Recommendations

Monitor Regulatory Guidance

United States and other government agencies have published
guidance that instructs organizations on ways to effectively
respond to the Log4j vulnerability. In so doing, regulators have
previewed what mitigation and prevention measures they would likely
consider to be reasonable as a baseline when evaluating
organizations’ conduct in connection with any Log4j-related
investigation or other administrative action.

Organizations should pay particularly close attention to
CISA’s webpage dedicated to Log4j. Updated regularly,
the site describes technical measures organizations should take,
including links to the most recent patches for Log4j. It also
features a compilation of resources to consult in responding to and
remediating any issues, among which is a community-sourced GitHub repository that lists affected
third-party vendors as well as a joint advisory published on December 22, 2021,
by CISA, the FBI, NSA, and cybersecurity authorities in Australia,
Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The advisory
recommends specific mitigation steps for organizations, including
remaining alert to vendor software updates and initiating hunt and
incident response procedures, and reminds organizations of their
obligations to report compromises related to Log4j to the FBI or
CISA. And it comes on the heels of an Emergency Directive issued by CISA which
directs US federal civilian executive branch agencies to
“immediately mitigate Log4j vulnerabilities in solution stacks
that accept data from the internet.”

Organizations should also review any publications issued by
industry-specific regulators. The Financial Industry Regulatory
Authority (FINRA), for example, recently published a Regulatory Notice alerting firms to the Log4j
vulnerability. In addition to prescribing measures for member firms
to adopt to address the flaw, the Notice reminds firms of relevant
obligations under SEC Regulations, including S-P Rule 30, which
requires firms to have written policies and procedures reasonably
designed to safeguard customer records and information, and Rule
4370, which applies to denials of service and other interruptions
of firms’ operations. The Notice underscores FINRA’s
expectation that firms develop “reasonably designed
cybersecurity programs and controls consistent with their risk
profile, business model, and scale of operations.”

The FTC similarly published a release urging companies and their vendors to
act now to prevent harm from being done to consumers and to avoid
FTC legal action. Noting its intention to vigorously pursue
companies that fail to take reasonable mitigation steps in light of
Log4j, the FTC points out that the “duty to take reasonable
steps to mitigate known software vulnerabilities implicates laws
including, among others, the Federal Trade Commission Act and the
Gramm Leach Bliley Act.” With these warnings in mind,
organizations should generally consider how existing statutory and
regulatory cybersecurity risk mitigation obligations applicable to
them (and others in their respective industries) might be
implicated by Log4j, and should promptly formulate a plan to
address any gaps in compliance accordingly.     

Assess Risk and Make Required Public Disclosures

As a vital initial step, organizations should conduct a
comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessment of the extent to which
Log4j permeates their operations as well as the resulting threat
level. CISA’s Log4j webpage contains useful recommendations for
technical approaches organizations might take in making these
determinations, including consulting the aforementioned Github
repository and deploying a scanner to detect the presence of potentially
vulnerable files on an organization’s system. Organizations
should work to quickly identify any attempts hackers have already
made to infiltrate their servers and inflict damage by methods such
as the installation of ransomware and deployment of

In performing these assessments, it is critical that
organizations evaluate risks present in products offered by
third-party providers and their subcontractors. In addition to
reviewing the GitHub repository and using the scanner provided by
CISA, organizations should monitor for announcements by third-party
vendors of vulnerable products, such as those made recently by
Cisco, Red Hat and VMWare. They should also consider formally
questioning vendors about possible exposure, including what
products they use, how they have evaluated risk, and what
mitigation and preventative steps they have taken and plan to take.
Note, however, that asking these questions of vendors requires
review and follow-up as dictated by the response. These
considerations should also be top of mind for companies doing
diligence in connection with potential acquisitions.

Following these findings, organizations should determine whether
any reporting or disclosure obligations might apply. In particular,
public companies should evaluate whether a discovered vulnerability
amounts to a material cybersecurity risk that must be disclosed in
filings with the SEC pursuant to its Commission Statement and Guidance on Public Company
Security Incidents
. Among other factors, the SEC explains that
companies must, as part of making this determination, weigh
“the potential materiality of any identified risk and, in the
case of incidents, the importance of any compromised information
and of the impact of the incident on the company’s
operations.” Even if the vulnerability itself does not require
disclosure, organizations may want to consider whether and how to
incorporate this and similar types of vulnerabilities into annual

Conduct Tabletop Exercises and Review Incident Response

Organizations should also ensure they are adequately prepared to
respond promptly and appropriately to any incident that might arise
from the Log4j vulnerability, both in terms of identification and
remediation of an attack, notification to customers, regulators,
and other relevant stakeholders, understanding insurance coverage,
engaging forensic teams and ransomware negotiators, and
collaborating with law enforcement. Tabletop exercises simulating a
Log4j-related intrusion could prove particularly helpful for
organizations seeking to refine their incident response procedures
and playbooks. In line with the FTC’s general guidance that “a strong data
security program ensures that a company is undertaking reasonable
precautions to protect its network and consumers’ personal
information from intruders”, organizations should act with the
understanding that regulators might one day scrutinize the steps
they took at this time to prepare against a possible attack, and
document such steps accordingly. Finally, organizations should
include, as part of these exercises testing ability to respond to
such attacks, discussions on how to handle ransomware
payments—whether and how to, what the considerations are, and
what the legal risks and considerations are.1


Actions taken in the coming days and months could make a
significant difference not only in the extent to which customer and
company data is protected from harm, but also in terms of shielding
organizations from possible business interruption and legal
liability. It is with this sense of urgency that organizations
should develop clear plans to address this flaw in a way that
comprehensively addresses all potential attack vectors and attack


1. See  our article on how to handle
ransomware attacks: Ransomware is Everywhere: What to Do If You
Are Hit
 (Jan. 2022).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.


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