According to a poll conducted by Statistica in 2022, in the previous year 493.33 million ransomware attacks were detected around the world. It cannot be overstated that businesses both large and small are at risk from these malign influences and the importance of data and virus protection cannot be overstated. Here, we will go into the stages of a ransomware attack in an effort to improve understanding of the risks of this growing danger to businesses. This will show how infections are hidden and propagated, how to detect an infection, and most importantly, proactive measures you can implement to safeguard your company.
Stage 1: The Silent Intruder
Ransomware attacks operate stealthily, infiltrating a network without raising immediate red flags. Often, attackers exploit vulnerabilities in software, weak passwords, or spear-phishing techniques to gain unauthorized access. They may employ social engineering tactics or disguise malicious files as legitimate documents, tricking users into unknowingly installing malware.
Stage 2: Unleashing Chaos
Once inside, ransomware lies in wait, sometimes for months without raising any alarm, quietly propagating across your network. Then, at a pre-established time the malware will start to encrypt files removing access to the legitimate user. This is when the true extent of the attack starts to become apparent. Suddenly, data is no longer available, access to work product replaced with a screen message demanding payment, usually accompanied by a countdown clock and the threat of permanent deletion if the ransom is not paid. Panic ensues as businesses face the harsh reality of their compromised network.
The size of the ransoms can be startling. According to Paloalto Networks, the average ransomware payments in 2022 rose to $925,162, approaching the unprecedented $1 million mark. This is an increase of 71% over the average ransom the previous year. That’s before additional costs incurred by victims including remediation expenses, downtime, reputational harm and other damages.
Is there any hope once an infection has been detected?
If your business has been infected by ransomware, it’s natural to feel a sense of hopelessness. Firstly, it’s essential not to panic and make rash decisions. Paying the ransom does not guarantee the safe recovery of your data and may even encourage further attacks as businesses can get listed as an easy target for intimidation. Instead, focus on taking decisive action and before you are faced with a problem have a robust recovery plan in place.
Proactive Measures for Protection:
1. Secure Backups: Regularly backup your critical data to offline or cloud storage solutions. Ensure backups are protected with strong encryption and test their integrity regularly to ensure reliable recovery options. The frequency of the backup determines how much data will be lost once the ransomware is detected. Intra-day backups where new data is backed up intermittently throughout the day is highly recommended. In this way once the date and time of first infection is identified your backup engineer can work backwards recovering unaffected data onto a clean partition on your network. This process can be labour intensive, but backup engineering staff have become adept at unwinding these situations. Time consuming but achievable.
2. Patch and Update: Keep your operating systems, software, and applications up to date with the latest security patches. Regularly install updates to address vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers. Bad actors most frequently follow the line of least resistance, forgoing attack on a business where security patches are known to be installed regularly, moving onto easier prey. There are literally millions of businesses in the world and its easier to infect systems that do not have properly updated security patches. So having a policy that includes regular security updates is an obvious measure that will help protect you.
3. Employee Education: Train your staff to be alert for phishing attempts, suspicious attachments, and how to avoid malicious websites. Encourage a culture of cyber awareness and provide ongoing cybersecurity training to equip employees with the knowledge to identify and report potential threats. Establish habits where links are never clicked to update data. Rather, if a request for information update is received go to the site from your bookmarked address. This simple measure can save days in recovery anxiety and tens of thousands of dollars in ransoms or engineering costs.
4. Robust Security Software: Deploy reliable antivirus and anti-malware solutions to detect and prevent infections. Firewalls are an absolute necessity and intrusion detection systems can fortify your network’s defences.
5. Access Controls and Least Privilege: Implement strict access controls and enforce the principle of least privilege. This means limiting user permissions to only what is necessary for their role, reducing the risk of lateral movement and unauthorized access.
6. Incident Response Plan: Develop a comprehensive incident response plan outlining step-by-step procedures to handle a ransomware attack. This includes isolating infected systems, notifying relevant authorities, and engaging cybersecurity experts that you have an existing relationship with for support.
7. Regular Security Audits: Conduct regular security audits and vulnerability assessments to identify weaknesses in your systems. Address any discovered vulnerabilities promptly to maintain a robust security posture.
In conclusion, protecting your business from ransomware attacks requires a proactive and multi-layered approach. By understanding the stages of an attack, how infections are hidden and propagated, and how to detect and respond to an attack, you can bolster your defences. Implementing proactive measures, such as secure backups and regular security patching,
employee education, robust security software, access controls, incident response planning, and security audits, will help safeguard your business’s valuable data. Remember, in the battle against ransomware, preparation and prevention are key. Stay vigilant, stay protected, and keep your business one step ahead of cyber threats.
DataFort is expert at helping businesses implement proactive security measures to guard against ransomware. We are also experienced at unwinding ransomware infections after the fact. Contact the office to discuss your particular requirements with the team.