What is Ransomware? Ransomware Guide to Risks, Costs, Prevention and Recovery

Introduction to Ransomware and Why You Should Be Concerned

Ransomware is a malicious software (malware) that encrypts or locks files, inhibiting access until ransom is paid or another recovery option is discovered. Ransomware comes in multiple forms.

Ransomware prevention tips: 

  • Implement proactive cyber security protection
  • Back up data
  • Create an incident response plan
  • Provide cyber security training for employees
What is ransomware?
What is ransomware?

You may have heard reports of recent ransomware attacks making headlines, but do you know what ransomware is and how it can affect your organization?

Ransomware attackers do not discriminate against organization size or type; small businesses and large corporations alike are all targets of ransomware attacks.

At Proven Data, our ransomware recovery services have helped thousands of clients efficiently remediate and recover from ransomware attacks.

Awareness is the first step to preventing ransomware and creating a strong security culture at your organization. 

To educate and encourage people to #GetCyberSerious, we partnered with Fmr. FBI Special Agent Patrick Gray of the Computer Crimes Squad to produce Operation Cyber Aware.

This documentary reflects our mission to not only assist organizations in data crises, but to educate them on how to protect and defend their data from future attacks. 

As a cyber security service provider, we are also committed to reducing your likelihood of experiencing a ransomware attack altogether.

By the end of this blog, you will:

Below you will find a basic overview of what ransomware is and the two common types of ransomware.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) built to encrypt or lock your files. Ransomware inhibits access to data until a ransom is paid (usually in the form of digital currency) or another recovery option is discovered to regain access to the ransomed data. Ransomware authors use strong encryption algorithms that lock this data, and only they have the key.

There are two primary forms of ransomware attacks that cyber criminals use of gain control of your data:

  • Crypto ransomware 
  • Locker ransomware

What is crypto ransomware?

Crypto ransomware blocks user access to files on their device by encrypting the files. Crypto ransomware attacks are successful due to the strength of the encryption that leave victims with minimal choices apart from restoring from backups or unfortunately having to pay a hefty ransom demand to get their files back.  

What is locker ransomware?

As the name implies, locker ransomware locks victims out of affected devices. When the user no longer has access to their device, the ransomware attacker demands a ransom in exchange for unlocking the device. 

There are many examples of different types of ransomware attacks and how they work that can help you understand the type of threat and the attack vector used.

Now that you have a basic overview of what ransomware is, what vulnerabilities in your organization can lead to a ransomware attack?

How does ransomware happen and why is it successful?

Ransomware attackers are highly skilled at seeking out critical organizational vulnerabilities in order to carry out their attacks. 

Understanding how ransomware can infect your network provides insight into how to prevent an attack. 

Below we outline the three common methods used by ransomware attackers and what makes them successful:

Unsecured RDP ports

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a common attack vector for ransomware. RDP is a portal that allows others to access your computer remotely. Leaving unsecured RDP ports on your network is like leaving your front door wide open to anyone. RDP ports can easily be misconfigured, or weak RDP passwords can create a vulnerability that unauthorized users can easily exploit.

Phishing emails

Cyber criminals can deploy their attacks through emails containing malware or malicious links called phishing attacks.

When an attachment is opened or a link is clicked, the ransomware program is installed.

Administrators and employees alike frequently receive emails from a number of different sources with various attachments and links, so this method of attack can easily catch victims unaware.

Phishing emails can lead to ransomware.
Phishing emails can lead to ransomware.

Exploit kits

Exploit kits are advanced malware tools used by cyber criminals to capitalize on security vulnerabilities in popular software and hardware. By packaging different types of malware together, this form of attack can be very dangerous, successfully deploying ransomware that can infect technology from well-known manufacturers.

To help you reduce the risk of a ransomware attack occurring on your network, we’ve provided an in-depth outline of the common ways ransomware attacks happen and how to prevent them.

How does ransomware recovery work?

When business critical data is held hostage in a ransomware, there are four common methods to recover files from a ransomware attack:  

  1. Recover files with a backup
  2. Recreate the data
  3. Find a vulnerability in the ransomware encryption
  4. Pay the ransom to decrypt ransomware files

Unfortunately, cyber criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their attack methods making many ransomware encryptions unbreakable. 

Victims of ransomware should research if there are any existing decryptor utilities that can help them unlock their files without paying the ransom. Tools such as the ID Ransomware tool founded by the MalwareHunterTeam can help you identify which variant of ransomware you are infected with. 

How does ransomware recovery work?
How does ransomware recovery work?

Additionally, the No More Ransom project hosts a variety of free tools that can help decrypt ransomware files with utilities provided by the cyber security research community. 

If you have exhausted all other recovery options and are considering ransom payment, it’s important you are aware of the pros and cons to paying the ransom.

The FBI does not encourage paying the ransom, but acknowledges it is a last resort option that business leaders may be forced to when business critical or confidential data is at stake. Under U.S. law, paying ransomware is legal unless payment is sanctioned.

However, even paying the demanded ransom does not guarantee the attacker will provide the means to recover your data. 

Regardless of whether you are able to decrypt your data or you choose to pay the ransom, you should always report a ransomware attack to law enforcement. Authorities can use the information from your attack to potentially identify and investigate the perpetrator, leading to eventual prosecution and prevention of future attacks. 

Now that you understand the common ways ransomware attacks happen and the recovery options, what are costs associated with resolving a ransomware attack?

How much does ransomware cost?

The expenses associated with resolving the damage done by a ransomware attack costs an average of $1,090,489 (including financial losses due to business downtime, people time, device cost, network cost, lost opportunity, and ransom payment) according to The State of Ransomware 2020 survey conducted by Sophos.  

There are many direct and indirect costs of experiencing a ransomware attack. We have outlined the common ransomware recovery costs and fees to give you clear insight into the financial impact of recovering from ransomware.

The indirect costs of recovering from a ransomware attack can include:

  • Business interruption losses
  • Legal expenses
  • Fines
  • Damage to brand reputation

The cost of recovering from a ransomware attack is based on:

  • Assessment fee
  • Number of encrypted systems
  • Ransom risk
  • Speed of service
  • Ransom demand

Key strategies to safeguard your organization from ransomware

Now that you have an understanding of the vulnerabilities that are commonly overlooked by organizations and exploited by ransomware attackers, the next step is making sure you minimize the vulnerabilities in your organization.

Below, you’ll find an overview of the key components to a comprehensive ransomware prevention strategy.

Be proactive with cyber security

Proactive protection is the best way to keep your data secure. The FBI encourages conscientious use of devices to minimize the likelihood of becoming a ransomware victim. 

Below, we’ve compiled a list of tips including the FBI’s tips to avoid ransomware to help you be proactive and prevent an attack:

  • Maintain current and up to date operating systems, software, and applications 
  • Implement anti-virus and anti-malware solutions and ensure they automatically update and run scans
  • Look into 24/7 threat detection and monitoring
  • Frequently back up data and confirm backups are completed
  • Make sure your backups are secure. Secure backups must not be connected to the data and networks they back up
  • Utilize strong passwords
  • Create a response plan for a ransomware attack

The products and services offered by a cyber security company can protect and defend your organization. Choosing a cyber security provider who is armed with proprietary threat intelligence and specialized skills to recognize network vulnerabilities and implement proactive programs can ensure the security of your organization. Cyber security professionals can also provide a framework to make sure protections are continually maintained and updated.

Understanding the costs of cyber security products and services available can help you make a decision which type of protection is the best fit for your business.

Whether your organization is proactively implementing security measures or recovering from a ransomware attack, it is never too late to secure your devices. Learn more about the strategies and costs of securing your network

Backup your data

Maintaining a regular backup schedule with backups that are properly configured allows you to successfully recover your data in the event of a ransomware attack. Your data backups must reflect the most current, relevant information. Business data can be accessed and edited hundreds to thousands of times each day requiring frequently scheduled backups to keep backups up to date.

Your data backups must reflect the most current, relevant information. Business data can be accessed and edited hundreds to thousands of times each day requiring frequently scheduled backups to keep backups up to date.

Data backup options include:

  • Cloud storage
  • NAS / file server storage
  • External hard drive storage

You should always have more than one backup in place. The 3-2-1 data backup method can guide you on how to effectively store multiple copies of your data.

 

Here is how the 3-2-1 data backup method works: 3 up-to-date copies of your data are stored in 2 different storage locations and in 1 cloud storage location.

Ransomware attacks can target storage devices connected to your network to make restoring data more difficult. This emphasizes the importance of having multiple backups that are off-site or offline.

Creating an incident response plan can ensure that your organization is prepared to properly use your data backups when a ransomware attack occurs.

3-2-1 Data Backup Method
3-2-1 Data Backup Method

Create an incident response plan

Every second counts when responding to a ransomware attack. Constructing an incident response plan is a crucial aspect of ensuring your organization knows exactly how to react to a cyber incident. 

Having an incident response plan can:

  • Improve the timeliness of incident response and recovery
  • Limit the damage of the attack, increasing chances of successful data recovery 
  • Provide structure and clarity for specific response procedures

Don’t waste critical time when a ransomware attack hits and ensure that your organization has an incident response plan outlined with emergency contacts of ransomware recovery professionals in case expert remediation assistance is needed.

Educate your employees about security risks

Regardless of the security products and protocols you put in place, there will always be a human risk involved with ransomware.  

Approximately 99% of the observed cyber attacks require human interaction to succeed according to The Human Factor 2019 threat report by Proofpoint.

Since ransomware attacks use tactics such as phishing to target employees at any level or position in your organization, your organization’s security is at the mercy of one uniformed click.

Creating a culture of cyber security awareness in your organization by educating staff and employees, especially those working remotely, can help mitigate cyber risks.

Organization-wide security awareness training can:

  • Provide all employees with the basics of how to prevent, react, respond and take action to remediate cyber attacks
  • Teach employees how to exercise caution when opening emails and avoid suspicious websites
  • Help eliminate the negative stigma attached to being a victim of a cyber attack 
  • Encourage conversations in your organization about cyber risks 
  • Ensure everyone is on board with protocols for reporting suspected attacks to improve effectiveness and efficiency of incident response

Now that you understand the strategies that can help you secure your organization from cyber attacks, what’s next? 

Next steps to ransomware recovery and prevention

You understand how ransomware attacks occur, the risks to your organization and the costs and strategies that can help you secure your organization, but you might be asking what can I do to stop a ransomware attack right now? 

At Proven Data, we recommend implementing proactive, layered cyber security.  Every day we use our in-depth understanding and experience with how ransomware works to help our clients protect their data. 

If you are interested in securing your network to prevent a ransomware attack, our cyber security services can help you find the right custom fit protection for your organization. 

If you have experienced a ransomware attack and need remediation assistance, our 24/7 ransomware recovery services can help. At Proven Data, our team of recovery experts are standing by to analyze the attack and determine the best course of action to return your data to you with minimal business interruption. 

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