Repelling A Ransomware Attack: 5 Things You Need To Do To Protect Yourself Or Your Business

Ransomware is one of the most pervasive and costly forms of malware affecting businesses today. According to the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Report, ransomware comprised 23% of all cyberattacks on businesses, making it the number one threat in 2021. As the recent waves of attacks like those waged against Colonial Pipeline and Kaseya show, no organization is safe, and the ransomware problem will only worsen.

The good news is that with good cyber hygiene, organizations can mitigate ransomware vulnerabilities and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Below are five ways organizations can help stop attacks and limit the effects of ransomware.

What’s Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to a system, device, or file until a ransom is paid. Ransomware does this by encrypting files on the endpoint, threatening to erase files, or blocking system access unless you pay up. Ransomware attacks can shut down network access or operations, damage your reputation with customers and employees, and invite further attacks as cybercriminals view your organization as susceptible.

How to Protect Your Business Against Ransomware

1.     Employee Security Training

Ransomware often enters an organization through the unintentional actions of employees. Most times, this involves an employee falling victim to a phishing attack, clicking a malicious URL, or downloading and opening an infected attachment. But how can an employee recognize, report, or eliminate a ransomware threat if they don’t know how to recognize it in the first place? They cannot. That’s why employees must undergo regular security awareness training.

A solid security awareness training program will instill knowledge and confidence in employees to recognize ransomware threats when they’re presented and how to respond and escalate issues properly. The more your employees know, the better they can serve as a defense mechanism for your business and the more proactive you will be with your cybersecurity measures. Nurturing and training your employees to the required maturity and equipping them with information and tools is like building security from the inside out.

Make cybersecurity training mandatory for every new employee, update and repeat training regularly, and make it a continuous process, not a once-in-a-blue-moon event. This helps them keep up with the ever-evolving ransomware threats. Company leaders must also buy into the importance of cybersecurity, support and promote richer cyber training programs and emphasize security in company communications.

2.     Implement Zero Trust Policies

The traditional network security model trusts any user and device inside the network. The inherent problem with this approach is that once a cybercriminal gains access to the network, they can move freely through internal systems without much resistance. On the other hand, the zero-trust security architecture sees everyone and everything as hostile and assumes a breach will happen. As a result, it requires strict identity verification for all users and devices before granting them access to resources, regardless of whether they’re within or outside the network perimeter.

While Zero Trust isn’t a silver bullet for ransomware, it can help create a much more robust security defense against ransomware attacks if implemented well. Zero Trust also helps reduce the attack surface significantly, as internal and external users only have access to limited resources, and all other resources are completely hidden away. Additionally, zero trust provides monitoring, detection, and threat inspection capabilities necessary to prevent ransomware attacks and exfiltration of sensitive data.

Here are a few guidelines to help you implement a comprehensive Zero Trust security framework within your organization:

  • Evaluate and audit users, endpoints, and business applications, then map out the current access paths and network flows between them.
  • Consider using a single sign-on solution to consolidate disparate identity solutions.
  • Adopt a network micro-segmentation strategy to ensure that lateral movement by malware and ransomware is restricted and exposed attack surface is highly reduced.
  • Continuously audit user privileges and follow the least privilege principle to ensure that users can only access business resources necessary for their job function.
  • Finally, security alerts from different security products should be consolidated and analyzed using a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution.

3.     Apply Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for Remote Management

One of the most common ways hackers can gain access to your company’s data is by guessing weak passwords, stealing passwords via automated bots, phishing and targeted attacks, or purchasing leaked credentials in bulk via the Dark Web. To protect yourself against this, implement mandatory 2FA on all applications that can be accessed remotely and limit SMS or email 2FA as the secondary verification as this can be spoofed.

Two-factor authentication requires one or more independent pieces of information to verify a user’s identity when they attempt to log in or access data. Requiring 2FA to access the network or log in to corporate accounts makes it much more challenging for attackers to gain access. The login attempts will alert employees and IT admins when requests for 2FA authorization start appearing. Plus, the attackers will need to expend significantly more effort and time when they don’t have the required 2FA information. In the end, it’s simpler for them to move on to easier targets.

In addition to two-factor authentication, invest in a solution that can detect and alert you to abnormal logins early enough to stop an attacker before they install ransomware.

4.     Endpoint Security 

In enterprise networks, endpoint devices refer to end-user devices such as laptops, servers, desktops, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and mobile devices. Such devices enable users to access the corporate network and are indispensable for day-to-day operations. However, endpoints also expand a company’s attack surface since malicious threat actors can exploit each one to launch ransomware attacks.

The best way to prevent ransomware attacks is to improve detection and defense systems at endpoints. Businesses should monitor all their endpoints for anomalies and suspicious behavior to contain threats before they snowball into a disaster and disrupt business activities. Modern endpoint protection tools combine the features of antivirus and antimalware tools with the capabilities of new-age technologies like automation, cloud computing, and remote monitoring to provide comprehensive network and endpoint security.

They also offer device firewalls, email security, behavior monitoring, endpoint encryption, DNS web filtering, and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) capabilities, which help security teams detect and block attacks occurring on endpoints in real-time. For companies with IT and security teams struggling to verify incident alerts and monitor systems continuously, consider outsourcing to a managed IT service provider like Atlantic IT to augment efforts.

5.     Ensure You Have a Robust Backup and Business Continuity Solution

While preventive measures are the best solution for ransomware, once an attack has already occurred, the best chance to recover the data is to maintain regular data backups. Even when an organization pays a ransom, there’s no guarantee that the attackers will hand over the decryption key. Restoring from backups is more reliable, cheaper, and does not involve handing money to criminals.

Your backup strategy should follow the 3-2-1 backup rule: make three copies of your data so that two separate backup copies support your original data, use two different media formats to reduce the chances that all possible avenues of recovery will be inaccessible through equipment failure, and keep a copy offline (air-gapped) so that attackers can’t gain access to it. These various layers of protection help ensure that if you lose data in one copy, media type, or location, you’ll still have somewhere to turn to restore it. You should also ensure that all backup and recovery plans are frequently tested. This is critical to calculate recovery times and establish whether data can be recovered at all.

A business continuity solution that is proactively implemented and tested provides you with the ever-important option for rapid rollback to restore data to a previously backed update. Follow these best practices to protect your backups against ransomware:

  • Immutability: This protects data both within and outside the backup solution. WORM (write once, read many) technologies can block illicit encryption attempts by making backup data immutable — in other words, impossible to change or delete. Just make sure it won’t pose barriers to the recovery objectives you’ve defined.
  • Use an air-gapped backup solution: Data isolation using air gap techniques can reduce the exposure of backup data to the risk of malware. If there’s restricted network access or read/write access to backup copies of your data, there’s no way to breach or corrupt that data, as only verified backup processes can manage those resources. To be effective, you should also consider physical access to data — there’s still the possibility of an insider inflicting physical damage to your storage library.
  • Increase backup frequency: Backup frequency will determine how much data can be lost in a ransomware assault. Even if you are backing up once a day or once every few hours, consider the cost of losing all the data since the previous backup.

Protect Against Ransomware with Atlantic IT

Atlantic IT is the go-to expert in Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Metro Dc, North Carolina, and Ohio when it comes to IT security and ransomware prevention. We can help assess your cybersecurity posture to identify vulnerabilities and provide recommendations on how to resolve them. From endpoint protection, penetration and vulnerability testing, data encryption, malware, and spam blocking to firewall systems and remote access, Atlantic IT has got you covered. By opting for our robust cybersecurity services, you can protect your business against even the most sophisticated ransomware threats, saving your business time, money, and reputation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation!

Thanks to Holden Watne with GenerationIX, a Los Angeles IT Services company for their help with this content.

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