One day your company gives away more than half a dozen cruises to employees. It was a good year.
That same week, you are stunned as you and hundreds of your colleagues are sent home and the company closes its doors.
There is confusion. There is hurt. There are rumors on social media.
Then an email arrives from the CEO: the company is unable to recover from a cyberattack and must re-structure, aka, close its doors.
This sounds like a Netflix storyline, but increasingly this is real life. Just ask the nearly 300 employees of The Heritage Company, a telemarketing company that has raised money for non-profits since 1958.
Company hit by ransomware attack, lacks cyber resilience to continue
ABC7 in Arkansas published the letter to employees, which was an admission, an apology, and a goodbye. It was straight from the desk of company CEO Sandra Franecke.
"Dear Employees of The Heritage Company,
I know that you are all angry, confused, and hurt by the recent turn of events. Please know that I am just as devastated as you all are, especially that we had to do this at this particular time of year.
Please know that we would have NEVER gone to this extreme if we were not forced to. Now is the time to be honest and open about what is REALLY happening so that all of you know the truth, directly from me, especially since some of you have incorrect information and the spreading of untruths thru social media is damaging us further.
Unfortunately, approximately two months ago our Heritage servers were attacked by malicious software that basically 'held us hostage for ransom' and we were forced to pay the crooks to get the 'key' just to get our systems back up and running. Since then, IT has been doing everything they can to bring all our systems back up, but they still have quite a long way to go. Also, since then, I have been doing my utmost best to keep our doors open, even going as far as paying your wages from my own money to keep us going until we could recoup what we lost due to the cyber attack.
I know how confusing this must be, especially after we just gave away 7 cruises just this week, but again, that was money that I spent out of my own personal money to give you the best Christmas gift I possibly could, but that was before our systems were hacked. Afterwards I didn't want to disappoint everyone by taking them back. We started the Prizes and Bingo the first of November when again I was being told the systems would be fixed that week.
What we hope is just a temporary setback is an opportunity for IT to continue their work to bring our systems back and for leadership to restructure different areas in the company in an attempt to recoup our losses which have been hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is extremely important right now that we all keep the faith and hope alive that The Heritage Company can and will come back from this setback. It is also important that we all keep to the facts and keep calm. And so, I ask that you please share this with the employees who may not be on this page or may not have Facebook. To share this out of the group, you will need to copy the text of this post and share it as your own status.
Please know that when I made my speech at the 'Future is Bright' luncheons, everything was sincere and heartfelt. We had no way of predicting that our systems would be hacked at that time. Once we were hit with this terrible virus we were told time and time again that things would be better each week, and then the next week, and the week after that. Accounting was down and we had no way of processing funds. The mail center was down as we had no way of sending statements out, which meant that no funds could come in.
Had we known at the time that this would have hurt the company this badly, we would have made a statement to the employees long ago to warn everyone what this might mean. The ONLY option we had at this time was to close the doors completely or suspend our services until we can regroup and reorganize and get our systems running again. Of course, we chose to suspend operations as Heritage is a company that doesn't like to give up.
I also want to apologize for the way many of you found out we were closing our doors. When we left the meeting yesterday afternoon, everyone had a plan for what was to happen, but we never considered that the word would spread so fast and far to each of you before your managers could speak to the employees who had already gone home for the day. No one is sorrier than I about you finding out from other sources who did not necessarily have the correct information.
So here it is: The Heritage Company is temporarily suspending our services. On January 2nd, there will be a message left on the weather line. That message will give you updated information on the restructuring of the company and whether or not we’ve made progress on our system.
In the meantime, I urge each and every one of you to please keep faith with us. We know how extremely hard you all work for each of the wonderful charities we all represent. We want you all back where you belong in two weeks’ time. We are a family, and my hope is that we will stay a family for a long time, despite this setback.
My mother started this company 61 years ago, and I am committed to keeping Heritage open if it is in my power to do so.
New message from company hit by ransomware: seek other employment
Did you catch the part in the CEO's letter that she was hoping to bring people back in the new year? The part about calling the company's "weather line" on January 2nd for an IT recovery update?
According to ABC7, employees called, and they heard devastating news:
"Though we have made progress, there is still much work to be done. With that in mind, we do not prevent you from searching for other employment. Please take care of yourselves, your loved ones, and have a happy New Year."
Companies desperately need resilience plans for cyber attacks
Many companies have contingency plans for severe weather, power outages, and increasingly, for active shooter situations.
But too many organizations still lack cyber resilience as part of their business continuity plans. That planning can help a company withstand, respond to, and recover from an otherwise crippling cyberattack or data breach.
SecureWorld recently reported on two doctors' offices that closed after ransomware attacks because patient records were destroyed in the attacks, with no plan in place in case of a ransomware attack.
Paying ransom is not a cyber resilience plan
We've heard leaders at our 17 regional cybersecurity conferences discuss the issue of whether to pay, or not to pay, the ransom. Sometimes it comes down to principles, sometimes practicalities.
Regardless, paying is not a guarantee of success. The Heritage Company paid the ransom to get the decryption key, but you cannot count on that as a resilience plan. Recovering from an attack can be really complicated.
This is why the City of Baltimore refused to pay attackers: $18 Million Later: Why We Refused to Pay the Ransom.
Although, in some cases we know of, paying attackers has worked well. That was the case in one Alaskan city. But it demanded a proof-of-concept before agreeing to pay the ransom:
How strong is your organization's cyber resilience plan?
Hopefully, it will keep your organization from giving away cruises one day and then shutting its doors the next.