What You Need to Know to Shield Your Business from Ransomware

Ransomware attacks dominate security news headlines daily to the point that people have begun to dismiss them as inevitable. In May of 2021, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack highlighted the real-world consequences of a successful cyberattack.

While ransomware is a severe threat to all businesses, the proper tools can prevent these devastating attacks. This article will detail everything you need to know about ransomware and ransomware protection to safeguard your users, your critical assets, and your reputation.

Watch: Best Practices to Protect Against Ransomware 

What Is Ransomware & How Does It Work?

Ransomware is a malware designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money in the form of untraceable Bitcoin is paid. It encrypts a victim’s files until they have made the payment the attacker demands.

Ransomware can be delivered via multiple vectors, most of which utilize email. Phishing is one of the most common methods of delivery. When a user downloads a malicious attachment within a phishing email that contains ransomware, all of the user’s files are encrypted and made inaccessible until the ransom specified in a message presented to the user is paid. 

In some cases, the attacker may claim to be a law enforcement agency shutting down the victim’s computer due to alleged pornography or illegal software found on it. In these cases, they often refer to the payment they are demanding as a “fine,” hoping that disguising it as such will make the victim less likely to report the attack. This highly deceptive tactic is often successful.

In the case of a specific variation of ransomware called “leak is” or “doxware,” a criminal threatens to publicize sensitive information on the victim’s hard drive unless a ransom is paid. However, obtaining such information is complex and usually requires significant time and effort. As a result, encryption ransomware accounts for the majority of campaigns.

Who Does Ransomware Target?

While ransomware is a severe threat to all businesses and organizations, some entities are at heightened risk of suffering an attack. For instance, ransomware campaigns often target medical facilities or government agencies. After all, they tend to pay the ransom quickly because they need immediate access to their files. Over the past year, approximately 2,400 ransomware attacks have hit corporate, local, and federal offices.

Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBS) are also desirable targets among ransomware operators because attackers know that these companies often have smaller security teams and tend to invest less in cyber defense. Eighty-five percent of MSPs report ransomware as a common threat to SMBs, and 29% of small businesses have experience with ransomware - making them more likely to be unprepared for this threat. Data reveals that most small businesses cannot recover from an attack, and 60% of small companies go out of business within six months of getting hit with ransomware

Common Types of Ransomware

Ransomware is constantly evolving, and sophisticated new strains are always emerging. While each new variant has unique characteristics and its method of spreading, all strains of ransomware rely on similar social engineering tactics to deceive users and encrypt their files. Some notorious ransomware variants include:

  • WannaCry: The most well-known ransomware variant globally, this crypto worm has infected nearly 125,000 organizations in over 150 countries.
  • CryptoLocker: The CryptoLocker botnet has been around for the past two decades; however, the CryptoLocker ransomware emerged in 2013 when hackers used the original CryptoLocker botnet approach in ransomware. Between September and December 2013, CryptoLocker infeRed word "Ransomware" hidden in the middle of a binary code sequence.cted over 250,000 systems and earned over $3 million for its creators before the botnet was taken down in 2014 in an international operation.
  • Petya: This ransomware variant, which arrives in an email disguised as a job applicant’s resume, began spreading in March 2016. If a user clicks on a malicious file within this email, their computer is rebooted, and the user’s files become unreachable until a ransom is paid. Petya encrypts .exe files, which sometimes interferes with victims’ ability to pay ransom.
  • NotPetya: Similar to Petya, NotPetya encrypts a victim’s master file table and requests a Bitcoin ransom to restore access to these files. However, NotPetya is different and more dangerous than Petya in multiple ways. NotPetya spreads on its own, encrypts everything on a victim’s computer, and technically is not ransomware. In encrypting a user’s data, NotPetya damages it beyond repair. In 2017, a devastating NotPetya outbreak cost FedEx $300 million in lost business and cleanup costs.
  • Bad Rabbit: This strain of ransomware typically spreads through a fake Adobe Flash update on compromised websites. It has infected organizations across Russia and Eastern Europe.
  • Cerber: This ransomware variant targets cloud-based Microsoft 365 users. A sophisticated phishing campaign by Cerber ransomware has victimized millions of users. Secondary protection is critical in keeping Microsoft 365 users and their data safe.
  • Locky: A ransomware variant designed to lock victims’ computers until a ransom is paid, Locky spreads through a seemingly harmless email disguised as an invoice.

Mobile Ransomware and RaaS

Authors and operators of ransomware are motivated by the potential to make a profit, which has led to a rapid increase in innovation and creative and sophisticated tactics. Attackers can replicate minor attacks against large corporations and demand a significant ransom. To do this, cybercriminals only require a small percentage of successful large-scale attacks to produce substantial revenue, a considerable incentive for threat actors.

A report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) warns of threats like ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) and mobile ransomware. Ransomware-as-a-service schemes on the dark web, which allow individuals and groups to have an impact disproportionate to their technical skill, are expected to increase in prevalence. Mobile ransomware is on the rise because mobile phones often lack adequate security defenses and contain valuable information. Experts predict a steady increase in mobile ransomware attacks and the magnitude of these campaigns. 

Best Practices for Protecting against Ransomware

While preventing a successful cyberattack is impossible, engaging in security best practices and investing in a proactive, fully-managed email security solution can drastically reduce your risk. Some best practices for preventing a ransomware attack include the following:

  • Confirm the legitimacy of an email before downloading any attachments it contains.
  • Make sure your OS is patched and updated, reducing the chance of vulnerabilities existing that criminals could exploit.
  • Back up your files frequently and automatically. This won’t prevent a ransomware attack, but it can reduce the damage caused by one. Be aware that backups are not foolproof: ransomware may sit idle for weeks until triggered, potentially destroying backups.
  • Invest in a comprehensive, proactive cloud email security that accurately detects malicious emails, such as those containing ransomware, and prevents them from reaching the inbox.

How to Protect Backups from Ransomware

While backing up your files regularly may reduce the devastation caused by a potential ransomware attack, backups are becoming less reliable as ransomware evolves. Threat actors are getting smarter, attacking backups to prevent recovery. Because of this, it is essential to engage in best practices to protect your backups from ransomware, including:

  • Supplement backups with additional copies and third-party tools.
  • Keep multiple copies of essential files at various locations.
  • Isolate backups - The more barriers exist between an infected system and its backups, the harder it will be for ransomware to attack them.
  • Test your backups! Perform restoration exercises regularly to identify any issues with your backups.

If Your Computer Has Been Infected With Ransomware

If you are the victim of a ransomware attack, you will need to regain control of your computer, though this will not restore your files as it is impossible to decrypt blocked data without access to the key held by the attacker. Removing the ransomware from your computer eliminates the possibility of recovering encrypted files by paying the ransom.

Should I pay the ransom?

Paying the ransom perpetuates the cycle of cybercrime. Decryption keys for many common strains of ransomware are available, and victims should always seek the guidance of security experts before even considering paying. It is often posransomware sible to recover encrypted data without paying criminals. Sites like No More Ransomware were established to evaluate your encrypted files after you’ve been compromised to help you ascertain the type of ransomware used.

However, decryption tools may be unavailable in cases involving newer or less common ransomware variants. Not paying the ransom that attackers ask for is often unrealistic for businesses and organizations that have lost important data. Although sixty-six percent of companies say they would never pay ransom to cybercriminals, sixty-five percent do pay ransom when attacked. Realistically, whether or not to pay ransom to restore encrypted files is complex: it is both a moral and a practical decision, often involving a cost-benefit analysis.

The FBI’s position on dealing with a ransomware attack is that victims should never pay ransom to attackers, adding that paying ransom does not guarantee that encrypted files will be recovered and that payments may be used to fund other criminal activity. 

Keep Learning About Ransomware Prevention

Regarding ransomware, prevention is far better than remediation. Implementing the caliber of email protection required to repel these increasingly sophisticated attacks is an investment that continues to pay off in terms of business security and success.

Want to learn more about the magnitude of your business email risk and get expert advice on how you can reduce it? Use our free Email Risk Assessment Toolkit and learn about steps you can take to better secure your business against phishing, ransomware and other sophisticated modern threats in less than two minutes.

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