Ransomware attacks are becoming an increasing threat to businesses, organizations, and municipalities worldwide. If your organization becomes the victim of one of these attacks, you may be forced to pay hundreds of thousands— if not millions— of dollars to regain access to your systems and data.
What is Ransomware – and How Does It Work?
A ransomware attack is a type of extortion initiated over the Internet—a cyberattack for profit. Most ransomware attackers work for criminal organizations or foreign nations that are in it purely for the money. They threaten to hold an infected system and its data hostage until a hefty ransom is paid.
Who Do Attackers Target?
Any type of organization can be the victim of a ransomware attack. Some attackers focus their attention on a single business or government entity. Others cast a wider net, sending ransomware to a large number of targets, assuming that at least a few recipients will click on a link and release the virus onto their computers.
How Does Ransomware Infect Your System?
A ransomware attack is typically triggered by a phishing attempt on an employee somewhere in the targeted organization. When an unsuspecting victim clicks a link in the phishing email and subsequently enters their username and password, the attacker gets access to the user’s system and plants the ransomware. Another common approach is to send the victim an email with an ordinary-looking attachment. When the user opens the attachment, the ransomware infects the host system.
Some ransomware attackers launch their attacks immediately on the initial infection. Others wait patiently for the ransomware to spread across large computer systems. In some cases, a ransomware attack can happen weeks or months after the initial infection.
What Does Ransomware Do to Your System?
Once the cyber extortionist initiates the attack, the ransomware goes to work. The malicious software encrypts data across the infected system so that it cannot be accessed. Some ransomware also encrypts the operating system of the infected computers, rendering them completely unusable. The most sophisticated ransomware is also capable of infecting data backups, making it virtually impossible for the targeted organization to restore data from a previous date. Users at the targeted entity are frozen out of the entire computer system.
The cyber extortionists, who have taken great care to cover their tracks online, then send the victim a ransom notice. This notice may automatically appear on the screens of infected computers or it may arrive in an email message. The message notifies the victim that their computers and data are encrypted and provides information on how to satisfy the attacker’s demands. This typically involves making a payment, usually in Bitcoin, to an untraceable online bank account. Ransom demands range from several thousand dollars to several million. At this point the victim has two choices: they can pay the ransom or take the hit.
What Happens After a Ransomware Attack?
If a company or organization chooses not to pay the ransom, it can attempt to restore affected data from a previous data backup. This may or may not work, depending on whether the ransomware has also frozen the backup. If the entire computer system is locked up, the organization may need to purchase new computers and servers. The cost to proceed without paying the ransom may exceed the price of the ransom itself.
Paying the ransom as demanded isn’t without risk. There is always the chance that the cyber extortionist may take the money and run, leaving the infected systems inoperable. Even if the cyber extortionist provides the key to decrypt the locked data, the victim might still encounter problems. Not all affected data is always recoverable, and some damage to files or systems may be irreparable.
If your organization is attacked, you’ll probably be offline for days or weeks. You’ll also pay the cost of downtime and the expense of bringing the system back online.
Anatomy of a Ransomware Attack?
Most ransomware attacks take place over six distinct stages.
The initial state of the attack typically involves the distribution of phishing emails. The campaign may target a specific organization or distribute en masse to a large number of potential victims.
After a victim clicks the link in the phishing email, the malicious code is downloaded to the victim’s computer and executed. At this point, the host system is officially infected – although no files have yet been encrypted. If the infection can be identified at this stage, it can be removed before any damage is done.
In this stage, the malicious code establishes a connection to the attacker’s command and control server. The attacker can now send commands to the infected system.
The attacker now scans the infected system to determine which files to encrypt. This may take hours, days, or even weeks, during which time the malicious software hides undetected on the victim’s system. There is still time, at this stage, for the infection to be detected and deleted without any damage to the host system.
This is the stage where the damage occurs. At the attacker’s command, the ransomware encrypts all or selected files on the victim’s system.
During this final stage, the victim’s system becomes inoperable and the attacker sends the victim an electronic ransom note. The note demands payment, typically in Bitcoin, to decrypt the affected files and return the infected system to normal.
The Very Real Costs of Ransomware
Ransomware is one of the most serious cybersecurity threats faced by organizations today. The FBI reports that more than 4,000 ransomware attacks take place every day. Ransomware attacks entities of every size, from small businesses to large hospital systems to entire school systems and city governments.
Ransomware attacks are increasingly costly. Sophos’ The State of Ransomware 2020 report details that organizations that choose not to pay the ransom spend just over $732,000 to return their systems to working conditions. Organizations that choose to pay the ransom are out the cost of the ransom and additional remediation costs, for an average of $1.45 million per attack. That’s in addition to the average 19 days of downtime organizations experience after an attack.
Knowing all this, can your company afford to be a victim of ransomware?
How to Detect a Ransomware Infection – Before It’s Activated
The most obvious sign that you are a victim of a ransomware attack is that your systems freeze up, your data files become inaccessible, and you receive a ransom note from the attackers. By this time, however, it’s much too late to do anything about it other than respond to the attacker’s demands.
It is essential to detect an infection before the ransomware is activated. You need to employ measures that actively seek out ransomware infections in your system.
The process of proactively proving your system for ransomware and other cyber threats is called threat hunting. Threat hunters evaluate network traffic and activity to look for signs the system has been compromised.
One of the most common signs of compromise is the presence of a persistence mechanism. Malware inserted into a system needs to endure when the system is rebooted, or else the attackers have to keep reinserting the malware again and again. To maintain an infection, the malware must have some sort of persistence mechanism. Threat hunters look especially for signs of a persistence mechanism, which they can then analyze and track to discover the malicious software itself.
How to Protect Against Ransomware
There is no single solution that completely protects against ransomware attacks. You need to employ a multi-faceted security program to protect against, detect, alleviate, and recover from ransomware attacks.
Protection Starts with Your Employees
Since most ransomware intrusions start with a phishing attack, it’s important to beef up your phishing defenses. This includes strengthening anti-phishing education for all your employees and stressing – over and over again – not to click links or open attachments in unsolicited email and text messages.
Employees should also be trained not to download files from unknown websites or accept media and USB drives from untrusted sources.
Naturally, your IT staff should play a significant role in your defense against ransomware. Staff needs to make sure that all operating system and software are fully updated and install all of the following:
- Anti-malware software
- Web filters
- Email security filters
- Robust firewalls
It’s also important to implement measures that ensure ransomware removal in the event of an infection.
Back-Up Your System Just in Case
In addition, you need to take precautions in case your organization is the victim of a ransomware attack. You need to frequently make multiple backup copies of all important files, documents, and software and store some of these backups offsite or in the cloud. You need to be able to restore your system if your system or files are wiped by an attacker.
How Triofox Can Protect Your Business from Ransomware Attacks
Triofox is a file server enhancement solution that provides secure file sharing for your on-premises and remote workforce. Triofox can also help your organization protect against ransomware attacks with its robust ransomware protection.
Triofox continuously monitors all Triofox clients and takes proactive action if it sees any unusual activity from any device. If an attack is detected, the software disables access for the affected device and sends an alert to the system administrator. To enable your team to recover from ransomware and other attacks, Triofox also includes offsite file server backup.
Triofox also provides an easy-to-access version control history that simplifies recovery from Cyber-Attacks including ransomware and malware.
Contact us today to learn more about Triofox’s ransomware protection.