Posts Tagged: Apex HCM


23
Feb 19

Payroll Provider Gives Extortionists a Payday

Payroll software provider Apex Human Capital Management suffered a ransomware attack this week that severed payroll management services for hundreds of the company’s customers for nearly three days. Faced with the threat of an extended outage, Apex chose to pay the ransom demand and begin the process of restoring service to customers.

Roswell, Ga. based Apex HCM is a cloud-based payroll software company that serves some 350 payroll service bureaus that in turn provide payroll services to small and mid-sized businesses. At 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, Apex was alerted that its systems had been infected with a destructive strain of ransomware that encrypts computer files and demands payment for a digital key needed to unscramble the data.

The company quickly took all of its systems offline, and began notifying customers that it was trying to remediate a security threat. Over a series of bi-hourly updates, Apex kept estimating that it expected to restore service in a few hours, only to have to walk back those estimates almost every other time a new customer update went out.

Contacted Wednesday by an Apex client who was nervous about being unable to make this week’s payroll for his clients, KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Apex for comment. Ian Oxman, the company’s chief marketing officer, said the ransomware never touched customer data, but instead encrypted and disrupted everything in the company’s computer systems and at its off-site disaster recovery systems.

“We had just recently completed a pretty state-of-the-art disaster recovery plan off-site out and out of state that was mirroring our live system,” Oxman said. “But when the ransomware bomb went off, not only did it go through and infect our own network, it was then immediately picked up in our disaster recovery site, which made switching over to that site unusable.”

Oxman said Apex hired two outside security firms, and by Feb. 20 the consensus among all three was that paying the ransom was the fastest way to get back online. The company declined to specify how much was paid or what strain of ransomware was responsible for the attack.

“We paid the ransom, and it sucked,” Oxman said. “In respect for our clients who needed to get their businesses up and running that was going to be obviously the quicker path.”

Unfortunately for Apex, paying up didn’t completely solve its problems. For one thing, Oxman said, the decryption key they were given after paying the ransom didn’t work exactly as promised. Instead of restoring all files and folders to their pre-encrypted state, the decryption process broke countless file directories and rendered many executable files inoperable — causing even more delays.

“When they encrypt the data, that happens really fast,” he said. “When they gave us the keys to decrypt it, things didn’t go quite as cleanly.” Continue reading →