Ransomware: How to Prevent and Recover From an Attack

Ransomware attacks have cost victims millions upon millions of dollars, and these attacks are increasing at an alarming rate. In a ransomware cyber attack, criminals use malicious software to lock users out of their files and networks until a ransom is paid. 

According to IBM’s 2022 Cost of Data Breach report, ransomware attacks cost companies an average of $4.5 million, and experts at Acronis predicted in its Mid-Year Cyberthreat Report that the global cost of ransomware attacks will exceed the astronomical sum of $30 billion in 2023. This proves first-hand that businesses and organizations worldwide need to strengthen their cyber defense strategies and adopt more proactive approaches to preventing ransomware attacks. 

Ransomware Damages Reputation and Finances

While the financial repercussions of a ransomware hit can be devastating, it can also result in serious reputational damage for businesses. Partners, clients, stakeholders, investors and customers may lose trust in the organization’s ability to safeguard its data, leading to long-term damage to its brand identity and track record. Businesses must therefore have a robust recovery plan in place to quickly and affirmatively restore normal operations without such a hefty ransom to pay. With digital dangers looming at large, businesses should take advantage of useful tools to boost security, even if that involves going above and beyond traditional measures. 

This article will explore how a typical ransomware attack would function, common types of ransomware threats, and effective strategies to prevent and recover from these ambushes. 

How Ransomware Works

Understanding how a ransomware attack works is imperative to raising awareness and encouraging preventative measures to limit the damage and reduce the number of victims affected by these attacks.

Ransomware, like other malware (malicious software) infiltrates systems through phishing emails, infected software, and unpatched or unsecured network vulnerabilities. Once the cybercriminal has gained access, they quickly spread the malware which can lock files, encrypt data and restrict access, rendering it virtually impenetrable. A ransom note will often appear demanding immediate payment in order for access to be restored.

Common Ransomware Types

Crypto-Ransomware (AKA Encryptors)

This type of ransomware encrypts files and data within a system, scrambling data in unreadable code, rendering it inaccessible to the user. 

Notable examples of encryption ransomware include WannaCry and Ryuk.

Locker Ransomware 

This type of ransomware locks users out of systems, files and applications by restricting access to the desktop, keyboard and mouse. A lock screen displays the ransom demand, which must be paid to regain control of the system. Variants of lockers include Winlocker and Reveton.

Scareware 

This is a fake type of software that claims to have detected an issue, virus or malicious program on a user’s device and tricks users into paying to ‘resolve the problem’. Instead, the false error messages and pop-ups serve to deceive users into paying a ransom instead. NightMare was a notable example of a malicious scareware scam.

Doxware (AKA Leakware)

This ransomware blackmails the user by threatening to distribute sensitive information online, causing immediate panic and thus paying the ransom to prevent incriminating or private information from entering the public domain. LockBit 3.0 was a particularly notable example of doxware or leakware.

Depending on the victim, whether an individual or a business, ransom demands vary. What’s more, as users will be dealing with anonymous cybercriminals, there is no guarantee that access will be restored or that their end of the bargain will be upheld. 

Preventing Ransomware Attacks

There are several ways that both individuals and businesses can prevent and mitigate the impact of ransomware attacks. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is through a combination of the following methods and recommendations:

Prioritize Employee Education and Training

  • Staff should be trained on the most effective ways to identify and avoid malicious links, dangerous file attachments and phishing emails, all of which are highly common infection methods.
  • Employees should also ensure that any connected devices or hardware, even if they have been patched and purchased from reputable retailers, must be secured if used on business systems. 
  • Businesses should establish strict cyber awareness policies and train staff to be vigilant cyber detectors who can identify risks, acknowledge them as well as take them seriously.
  • Regular training and upskilling are crucial for helping organizations foster a security-aware culture where employees feel encouraged and empowered to raise issues.
Related:   Cybersecurity Predictions for 2022 - Part 2

Implement the Zero Trust Model

  • Businesses need to understand what the Zero Trust model is and implement it across their business to prevent the spread of ransomware. 
  • Following the key steps of the Zero Trust model is important, such as enforcing strict access controls, using multi-factor authentication, segmenting networks, and monitoring ransomware activity.
  • Decreasing privilege access, microsegmentation networks and access will also help to isolate critical assets, while enhanced encryption will make data useless if stolen. 

Use Advanced Endpoint Protection

  • Businesses should deploy enterprise-grade antivirus and firewall solutions, as well as anti-malware and internet security tools on all systems regardless of the size and scale of the business.
  • It’s especially crucial that highly vulnerable endpoints like laptops, mobile phones and servers are protected with robust security software.
  • Many business antivirus solutions come with advanced ransomware detection features to stop unknown threats or anomalies. 

Make System Hygiene a Priority

  • Implement strong password policies for all users to comply with. These will ensure that each user cannot reuse passwords for multiple logins or systems and that the minimum password requirements make them exceptionally hard to crack.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication on applications and software where applicable, ensuring that any request for access is validated.
  • Back up your files and systems regularly, ideally offline, on a native server and on a cloud-based solution, to avoid data loss or compromise. Test restoration methods to ensure that the backups are working as expected.
  • Patch software vulnerabilities and install updates to operating systems, browsers, applications and more. Unpatched systems are some of the easiest targets for cybercriminals – as many as 60% of all breaches according to Automox.
  • Install macros, plugins and browser extensions from trusted, verified sources and be wary of any macros or code that could be easily compromised via SQL injections.
  • Restrict permissions and access control to verified, authorized users only and do not share logins with anybody outside the organization. 

Recovering from a Ransomware Attack

There’s no denying that security precautions and protocols will make a huge difference in a business’s cyber resilience. However, that does not mean that ransomware won’t ever slip through the proverbial cracks.

If ransomware infects a system despite your security prevention methods, you must respond quickly and decisively. Use these steps as a guide:

  1. Disconnect any infected devices or systems from the network, and delete any saved network connections, to avoid a hacker gaining access.
  1. Determine the ransomware variant to understand what files or data could be at risk, and what the criminal is demanding and promising to return upon receipt of payment.
  1. Check if the compromised or at-risk files have been backed up. If they can be restored via an online or offline storage solution, it may work in your favor.
  1. Security experts may be able to decrypt or dismantle some ransomware variants.
  1. Weigh the risks of non-payment and the possibility of uncovering any decryption keys.
  1. If your business is already consulting with a third-party IT or cyber security firm, their managed detection and response solutions may have already contained and identified the threat actor.
  1. Once data has been restored and recovered, isolate how the criminal gained access to your systems and adjust your defences to prevent the same thing from happening.
  1. If necessary, communicate with any stakeholders, consumers, investors or suppliers to advise that a threat has been detected and contained. Transparency is crucial, even if third-party data (internal and customer’s data) may have been at risk.

In summary, ransomware attacks can devastate organizations, but damage can be minimized through education and some basic prevention tips. With the likelihood and severity of cybercrime rising, businesses must enhance their security measures to ward off sophisticated threats looming in today’s connected landscape.

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