Many people understand how regular and severe ransomware attacks are. They can fully cognize the potential negative consequences of these attacks. However, only a tiny number know how to identify ransomware and what to do after a malware attack. It means that employees across different companies often cannot remedy their computer devices and networks.
So, we have created a list of some critical tips on preventing a malware attack effectively. Also, we have described the necessary actions to take after its occurrence. That may help your organization minimize the damage of the relevant violations.
What Is a Ransomware Attack? How Does It Work?
Ransomware is considered the category of malware created to block access to devices, services, or resources. Cybercriminals use data encryption and wait until the required ransom amount of money is paid to unblock access. Then, these hackers provide relevant instructions on the decryption of users’ files. Thus, victims can obtain the documents back after spending a defined ransom upfront.
So, how to check for ransomware? In some cases, ransomware can attack your system “thanks to” the following approaches:
- Social engineering (ransomware manipulates victims into providing confidential information like logins and passwords)
- Drive-by-download (when users visit the relevant infected websites, malware is downloaded to their computers automatically)
- User-initiated malware installations (when victims install the already infected software)
If such attacks are successful, the ransomware begins to encrypt the information available on the system. Therefore, users are forced to pay the ransom to gain the specific decryption key and recover their files.
In addition, hackers can stage ransomware attacks in advance or even execute them sometime later. That can take days or weeks for malware to enter the victim’s network and perform the actual attack. Cybercriminals will often take your information and move it out of your network during this period. That allows them to request an extra ransom, or they will release this data or profit from its possible sale.
What Are the Types of Ransomware Attacks?
To better understand ransomware, let’s analyze its four major types and its possible impact on your security landscape. From a historical viewpoint, crypto and locker served as the primary types of ransomware. But later, double extortion and RaaS (ransomware as a service) has also become well-known cyber attacks.
It blocks access to your organization’s computer systems completely. The particular type applies social engineering approaches and compromised credentials for infiltrating systems. After entering your system, the relevant threat actors deprive victims of access to their files until they pay the ransom.
For example, relevant pop-ups can appear on the user’s screen and say: “Your device was used to visit web resources that produce illegal content. To unlock your device, you must pay a $200 fine.” Another famous saying is: “Your device was infected with a virus. Click here to resolve the problem.”
This type of ransomware attack appears more widespread compared to the locker. Crypto ransomware may encrypt all or several documents on your computer and require a ransom from you. But this ransom predicts that you will obtain a specific decryption key. The modern crypto-ransomware attacks can infect shared, network, and even cloud drives. In addition, they can spread using malicious emails, websites, or downloads.
Double extortion ransomware
A specific malware attack is used to encrypt files and export information to blackmail users into paying the required ransom. In addition, cybercriminals promise to open stolen data to the public with such ransomware if their demands are not satisfied. Thus, although victims can restore information from their cloud backups, thefts still have power over such files. But at the same time, paying the necessary ransom cannot guarantee the appropriate protection of their information. After all, hackers can access the stolen files if needed.
RaaS (ransomware as a service)
RaaS means that cybercriminals rent access to necessary ransomware strains from the relevant authors. The last ones offer these strains as pay-for-use services. Thus, RaaS creators or owners host their ransomware on specific darknet sites where hackers can purchase it simply like a subscription.
Pricing depends on the complexity and functions of the chosen ransomware. In many cases, hackers also must pay an entry fee for membership. Then, after infecting victims’ computers and collecting ransom, they should pay a part of it to the relevant RaaS creator.
What to Do After Ransomware Attacks?
Let’s suppose that the inevitable has occurred. So, or even some of your organization’s computers are infected. What steps should you take now?
Below, there is a checklist of critical actions you need to implement after ransomware attacks:
1. Forget about paying the ransom
Of course, if it is your first ransomware attack, you may feel a bit scared. In such a situation, you may consider paying the ransom as the quickest method of getting your information back. However, you have no guarantee that cybercriminals will truly unlock access to your files after receiving the required payment. For instance, the CyberEdge Group reports that only 19% of businesses paying the ransom restore all their information and working environments like management consoles.
2. Ensure your computers are turned off and disconnect all devices from the network
After identifying all computers attacked by ransomware, the following things are necessary:
- Unplugging the network cable
- Turning the Wi-Fi off
- Shutting these computers down
Unfortunately, multiple types of ransomware may spread through your network connection. Thus, the sooner disconnection of infected devices, the better chances of containing the breach. Besides, taking all of the available shared drives offline is crucial before determining that you have already identified each infected system. Lastly, you should continue monitoring all systems to determine the potential encryption or disappearance of new files.
3. Identify the source
So, you have taken essential steps to contain the immediate damage. You need to check your IT environment for clues to the source. All systems that work with out-of-date or misconfigured software solutions can be easily compromised. After all, you should know that even different SaaS productivity applications such as Microsoft 365 are subject to vulnerability.
Here, you have to contact all of your users to realize who faced the first signs of a malware attack. Also, there is a need to define the time of its occurrence. For example, did it happen after they clicked on a relevant link in the email letter? Or were there untypical prompts coming from web browsers?
4. Notify all your users
Undoubtedly, sending email announcements and posting warnings on the specific company message board is good. However, in most cases, it is not enough. You should physically walk around and check all employees personally. That allows your company to ensure that everyone is aware of ransomware attacks and knows how to act.
5. Reimage all endpoints, servers, or virtual machines infected
If your IT environment is infected, you should guarantee that the ransomware will completely leave your systems. Wiping your devices and virtual machines clean and starting with a new image appears best. Such reimagination of the original servers and apps helps your company ensure that you have remediated ransomware successfully.
Also, your business can maintain its productivity at a high level with no disruptions. But in this case, backup planning is essential. For instance, among the key advantages of data backup in the cloud is your ability to recover critical applications and files.
6. Restore your data from a backup to clean devices
You need to get the information back after containing the damage and notifying all your users about the emerged threats. The most efficient approach to obtaining your data and not paying the ransom is to restore it from your backup. Your organization can store this backup using a reliable cloud service provider like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. So, why are backups important? Thanks to the high-quality automated backup tool, you can quickly get back the uninfected data from your systems.
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks?
Nowadays, the increase in cybercrimes forces organizations to reconsider their security strategies. Below, we have provided some helpful tips for mitigating ransomware attacks.
- Restrict administrative privileges. Be careful when giving administrative rights to someone. Admins always have access to critical data and functions like changing configurations or eliminating security settings. Implement the Principle of Least Privilege to grant various types of access.
- Patching applications. If your employees find a security flaw, your organization should patch it ASAP. That allows for preventing manipulation and abuse by cybercriminals.
- Use application whitelisting. The particular threat mitigation approach is among the most proactive ones. It enables pre-authorized programs to perform while the others remain blocked. That can help your company identify illegal attempts to execute malicious code and prevent unauthorized installations.
- Pay great attention to emails. An important fact is that ransomware can provoke the most vulnerability to emails. Thus, it is crucial to improve your email security. Here, secure email gateways can maintain the appropriate filtering of email communications. Besides, they can proactively activate URL defenses and attach sandboxing to identify threats. Since email phishing scams require prevention, you should also consider post-delivery protection.
- Providing security awareness training is critical. It teaches your staff to distinguish actual threats from legitimate information.
- Use MFA. With multi-factor authentication (MFA), your organization adds a layer of security. That is because MFA may require some pieces of evidence for logging into different remote access solutions. For example, they include online banking tools or other privileged resources that deal with sensitive data.
- Perform daily backups. Conducting regular backups of your information is an integral component of a successful disaster recovery plan. The importance of data backup depends on your company's ability to recover and access the required information. And one of the critical data backup advantages in the cloud is the chance always to decrypt the original data. Your organization can do that by restoring backups properly.
Apart from being extra careful, you should remember that the main target of ransomware attacks is often the obsolete software. Thus, you must ensure that all software your company uses is up-to-date and has the newest security updates.
Ransomware serves as a particular form of malware that blocks access to your information. You can compare ransomware to the criminals who rob a bank. During the robbery, they prefer taking hostages and expecting money for releasing these hostages.
The appropriate reaction to a malware attack requires cooperation between many departments. Thus, companies should have a specific response plan containing all the necessary actions they must take in relevant order. That helps minimize or even eliminate adverse outcomes after the ransomware attack happens.
You have to stay up-to-date with the newest security threats and trends. Also, you should be able to apply such trends efficiently (do not forget about the benefits of cloud backup). That enables your business to prevent a ransomware attack successfully.
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