When operating in the digital space, ransomware attacks are simply a cost of doing business. Companies concerned about their long-term viability are constantly working to prevent ransomware attacks on their digital infrastructure.
Ransomware attacks can be catastrophic for businesses that don’t have the right policies in place for prevention.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malicious attack against networked computing systems that seeks to encrypt data to prevent users from accessing it until the ransomers’ demands are met. Modern ransomware is made to automatically hold critical information ransom, giving attackers a way to leverage business assets to get what they want.
Hackers who can gain access to and exploit network vulnerabilities can inject malicious code into important systems for their own purposes.
Commonly Used Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware attacks happen all of the time, and hackers generally use the most up-to-date methods for gaining access to — and blocking users from — critical data. There are many types of ransomware attacks. Some of the most prominent have directly influenced the economic standing of the businesses that they have infected.
As the most simplistic form of ransomware, locker ransomware does exactly as its name implies — it locks users out of their important information.
When computers are infected with a locker virus, they are denied the ability to use core functions or boot into their desktop environments. There will usually be a lock screen that displays a message demanding that a specific fee be paid to unlock the data.
Crypto ransomware is more targeted than locker ransomware, although it has the same purpose. With crypto-ransomware, users can have specific files or folders encrypted, leaving them unable to access important data such as documents, videos, music, and pictures.
Businesses should be wary of sensitive files becoming vulnerable to crypto-ransomware attacks.
As more basic forms of ransomware first became an apparent threat, businesses responded with better backup and recovery solutions.
However, hackers soon found a way around this. With double extortion attacks, cybercriminals first make a copy of the data themselves before encrypting the user’s systems. This way, they can leverage the information against companies that don’t pay their demands.
With double extortion ransomware attacks, cybercriminals can continue extorting companies as long as the attackers access the exfiltrated data. Backups can’t protect against these types of threats, as attackers can threaten to leak the data publicly.
Ransomware as a Service
One of the biggest threats presented by ransomware is the growing industry surrounding it. IT support for hackers has become the main way for individuals and groups to easily create and deploy ransomware to take advantage of unsuspecting businesses.
Famous Hacks Involving Ransomware
There have been numerous high-profile ransomware attacks that have infiltrated large multinational companies. SolarWinds, WannaCry, and Bad Rabbit all made headlines when the attacks were made public.
In 2019, hackers infected the Orion system, an IT product offered by a company managing IT deployments. Because so many companies around the world relied on Orion for core operations, SolarWinds was able to quickly spread and gain access to over 30,000 user systems.
The WannaCry attack, which occurred in 2017, used a worm to exploit vulnerabilities in the Microsoft operating system’s EternalBlue component. The virus rapidly spread to other Microsoft systems, locking users out of their files.
WannaCry ultimately spread to hundreds of countries and infected hundreds of thousands of user devices. Hackers, in this case, demanded payment with the cryptocurrency BitCoin, which is harder for law enforcement agencies to track.
Bad Rabbit Ransomware
The 2017 Bad Rabbit ransomware took security researchers by surprise. While encrypting files and folders in a traditional ‘locker’ style deployment, Bad Rabbit gained access to systems through insecure websites that users accessed. It used a fake Adobe installer popup to get unsuspecting users to provide administrator privileges.
Bad Rabbit also had a ‘brute force’ component in which it would use the SMB protocol to attempt to spread further. This secondary vector made it more complex than previous attacks.
The Cost of Ransomware
The impact of ransomware on business can be costly. There is a real concern among many cybersecurity professionals about the threat of ransomware to their systems. Not even half of the companies who pay to retrieve their data end up getting it back. In many of these cases, the data had already been corrupted.
According to statistics, most companies are at least somewhat concerned about a potential ransomware attack disrupting their operations. However, not all of these entities have a specific plan in place for managing attacks when they do occur.
Understanding the cost of ransomware is essential for mitigating the risks of infection. Some costs include:
Loss of Leadership
In many companies, leaders are dismissed or resign. Chief information security officers (CISOs) have recently seen their tenures decline to an average of only one to two years. CEOs and other high-level executives can be susceptible to these trends as well.
Many such individuals have had to either retire early or step down following high-level security breaches at their organizations. Executive teams suffer when businesses don’t have the right ransomware prevention methods in place.
A third of companies have to eliminate jobs when ransomware attacks occur. Businesses seeking stability after major incidents will often lay off staff to stay afloat. Individuals working in the automotive, retail, and legal sectors have seen statistically significant job losses associated with ransomware attacks.
Those in manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and finance have also seen layoffs due to ransomware attacks. Private businesses should be wary of the potential impact of ransomware on their workforce.
A company’s image suffers when it allows private user data to be released to the public. This breach can mean losing key partners and supporters, reducing the company’s viability.
No matter what industry vertical a business is in, operational disruptions, downtime, wasted assets, and ultimately, brand degradation are all possible outcomes of ransomware attacks.
Insurance is important, but in most cases, companies won’t be able to regain all of their losses. This loss can impact the overall viability of the company. About a quarter of infected companies even close down completely due to ransomware costs.
The size of a company doesn’t matter when looking at statistics related to ransomware attacks. Any organization, no matter where it’s located or how wide-ranging its operations, can potentially become the target of a ransomware attack.
Many businesses operate on thin margins. Any disruptions to operations can have dramatic consequences for their capacity to deliver goods and services to customers. For many companies suffering cybersecurity attacks, there is an immediate risk of losing the business altogether.
No business, no matter how big or what industry it operates in, is completely immune to closures due to targeted ransomware attacks against its systems.
How Businesses Are Protecting Themselves from Ransomware Attacks
Paying ransomware doesn’t protect you from future attacks. More often than not, the same malicious actors will target a company again once their demands have been met. Cyber insurance, data backups, and other digital recovery methods are simply not enough to fully prepare an organization for the impact of a ransomware attack.
While there are many options for preventing ransomware, email scanning, data backup and recovery, endpoint protection, and security awareness training are the most commonly used. Make sure your organization is protected against cybersecurity attacks by taking proactive steps. Some of the best steps include:
Security Awareness Training
One of the most effective methods for reducing ransomware attacks is providing knowledge and education to individual users. Companies are deploying tabletop exercises that give employees a scenario for a cyberattack that they then play through and try to prevent.
This approach gives them hands-on experience that can be used in the real world to deal with potential cyber threats.
Security Operations Center (SOC)
The complexities of cybersecurity make it difficult for decision-makers to effectively leverage their resources to prevent ransomware attacks from occurring.
Using a SOC to empower IT professionals with centralized processes and up-to-date technologies is vital for businesses that want to reduce their vulnerabilities to targeted network attacks.
Endpoint Protection (EPP)
EPP focuses on user-level devices to block malware before it infects their systems. Rather than scanning for known viruses like traditional defensive software, EPP systems are designed to proactively find and mitigate existing security risks.
With EPP, organizations can detect malicious activity and deploy preventative measures before it’s too late.
Data Backup and Recovery
When dealing with important digital assets, businesses are extremely vulnerable to ransomware that steals, corrupts, or encrypts their data. Data backup and recovery solutions give businesses a way to replace lost or stolen information so that they can continue to offer core services to clients.
IT professionals and small businesses that want to find and remove malicious threats often use email scanning to ensure their communications networks aren’t susceptible to phishing and other exploits.
By actively scanning for viruses, spam, and other forms of malware, email scanning can help prevent ransomware attacks from locking users out of their data.
Many organizations rely on web-based applications for important tasks and workflows. This reliance makes them a prime target for hackers seeking to gain access to their systems.
Businesses can deploy web scanning to assess threats on websites, giving them continuous threat assessment capabilities for the discovery and detection of ransomware.
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR) are security protocols used to give IT professionals and security researchers insight into threat analytics.
EDR, and later XDR, were designed for visibility over payloads, attack phases, and endpoint vulnerabilities. This insight is essential for mitigating potential attacks.
Antivirus software is a commonly used method of scanning for and removing malicious code from user devices. Most antivirus software systems rely on a large database that lists specific points of malicious code for comparison.
This wide coverage makes antivirus software essential for finding common attack patterns and limiting their spread to more systems.
Mobile data and SMS messages are easily accessed and attacked by hackers, making mobile and SMS security vital for users all around the world. Because messages are not end-to-end encrypted, malicious hackers can gain access to and exploit user accounts and other important network nodes.
MSSP and/or MDR
Managed security service providers (MSSPs) give companies access to professional tools, services, and support for defending their networks and devices against malicious criminals.
By monitoring network events and providing updates, notifications, and threat mitigation services, MSSPs are essential to keeping modern organizations secure. Managed detection and response (MDR) services are targeted specifically toward finding and mitigating malicious threats in real-time.
Should You Be Concerned About Ransomware?
Brands are always at risk of ransomware threats, no matter how many steps they’ve taken to keep themselves safe. On average, four out of five companies are concerned about ransomware. Prevention is the best method for dealing with ransomware.
Every stakeholder should be concerned about potential ransomware attacks against an organization. While the number of successful cyberattacks has continued to grow, so has awareness on the part of businesses and consumers.
Ransomware has become a pervasive threat to businesses across every industry. However, this has led to urgent calls for better protection methods.
Businesses that haven’t woken up to the threat of ransomware simply aren’t paying close enough attention. They don’t have to be involved in high-profile operations to become the victims of ransomware.
Most cybercriminals are motivated by money over ideology. They’re looking for easy targets, network weaknesses, and security vulnerabilities.
The Looming Threat
While many businesses are beginning to see the looming threat of ransomware as a real problem to their continued existence, research suggests that about a quarter of businesses are overconfident in their cyber defense abilities or simply haven’t seen all of the data.
A Perfect Storm
Although many companies have indicated they trust their cybersecurity policies, more believe they have the right IT staff in place. This belief presents a challenge because IT support alone is not enough to protect them from ransomware.
The number of potential targets for malicious actors has grown. Attacks are becoming more sophisticated and targeted at specific systems, causing disruptions across all verticals.
The Future of Ransomware
Businesses are relying more on digital assets now than ever. As businesses continue to turn to remote workers and rely more heavily on digital tools and assets, it only increases the attack surface available to hackers.
Threat actors are becoming more sophisticated, but businesses are becoming wise to the ever-present threat these attackers pose to ongoing operations. The amount of research and public interest has never been greater, leading to a growing number of ways for businesses to mitigate ransomware attacks.
The Best Approach
The best approach is to prevent ransomware attacks from occurring in the first place. Once data has been compromised, businesses have few options remaining. This occurrence means either halting operations while data can be recovered or paying the demanded fee, which likely won’t even work.
Preparation, disruption, and response should be considered together as a ransomware prevention policy. Businesses should work together to prevent ransomware attacks from occurring by sharing information so they can develop better methods for mitigation.
Use Best Practices
Good security hygiene is the first layer of defense against potential ransomware attacks. Business leaders should make sure to enforce timely software patches, backups, and ongoing employee training to prevent common security mistakes from disrupting operations.
While this may not prevent every threat from getting through, it will go a long way in limiting the amount of damage any specific attack can do.
Deploy a Multi-Layered Strategy
The best prevention methods take into account all network endpoints. Any remote computing device used to store or access important data should be a part of this strategy. Desktops, laptops, servers, routers, and any other device that has access to or contributes to the network should be secured.
Focus on Detection and Response
There are many tools available for IT managers and small business owners to improve the detection and response times for their systems. By deploying defensive strategies across the ecosystem, decision-makers can have better visibility, allowing them to prevent attacks before they even occur.
There are many lessons to be gained from reviewing and implementing a successful cybersecurity strategy. When it comes to ransomware, companies that rely on digital assets for core services and operations have to be especially wary.
The influence of good risk management across the organization can’t be overstated. When business leaders and managers make practical cybersecurity decisions, others will naturally follow suit. Prudent security managers will consider all aspects of their networks when creating their ransomware prevention strategies.
This consideration means understanding which practices do and don’t work, investing the time and resources into deploying them throughout the enterprise, and offering ongoing support for finding and mitigating threats across the organization.
By following these basic guidelines, companies can eliminate the threat of ransomware and reduce the cost of doing business altogether.