WHAT IS Ransomware and why is it important?

A ransomware attack occurs when an attacker infiltrates a network, encrypts it, and holds it hostage until they receive ransom money. Ransomware is a type of software that enters a network with the express intent of extorting an organization for money, while simultaneously dismantling and accessing essential company data.

There are several types of ransomware: consumer ransomware, server-focused, and exploitable vulnerabilities are three of the most common ransomware attacks.

  • Consumer Ransomware: This attack targets consumers with the intent to infect the maximum number of computers within a network. Consumer ransomware attacks are typically automated and attackers ask for a small ransom for each encrypted computer.

  • Server-focused: These attacks aim to infect a server by encrypting essential company files. A server-focused ransomware attack will usually disrupt a network to the point where the organization can no longer conduct any of its normal business operations.

  • Exploitable Vulnerabilities: Other ransomware attacks can fall into the category of "exploitable vulnerabilities" – when malicious hackers are preying on the weaknesses in your cybersecurity. As a result of when an exploitable vulnerability is present, adversaries have a clear, actionable path to deploy an attack and hold for ransom.

While one person has the capability to hack into your organization’s networks, it’s more likely that the attack is executed by a group of people known as a ransomware gang. These gangs constantly grow, evolve, and change their names to gain power and evade capture. 

Numerous ransomware gangs have risen to the rank of national security threats. North American attacks from ransomware gangs have increased 104% in 2021 and this number is expected to keep climbing as the cyber landscape becomes more technologically advanced.

A ransomware attack can leave lasting effects on your business; some organizations have been completely destroyed as a result of a well-timed ransomware attack. All parties involved in your business are at risk during an attack because the gangs aim to infect and encrypt as much information as possible - pertinent employee, client, vendor, or patient information are all at risk during a ransomware attack. 

If a ransomware gang attacks, you can lose access to valuable information - and if your valuable information includes personal patient information such as social security numbers, medical records, and more, you may be subject to HIPAA violations. Ransomware attacks are projected to cost victims over $250 billion dollars in the next decade. 

To get a better understanding of a ransomware attack, let’s dive deeper into the ransomware attack lifecycle.



Ransomware Lifecycle Attack

A closer look into a ransomware lifecycle attack helps us see the full picture of how the attacker gains access to and infects a system, how they manage to stay, and what the potential damages are post-event. Within any given ransomware lifecycle attack, it will follow a similar six-stage pattern:

  • Reconnaissance: Hackers begin to take over your security system by searching, scanning, and investigating a target before they decide to attack. This is the initial ransomware lifecycle attack stage, which is also called reconnaissance.

  • Attack: Ransomware attackers often initiate a system infection by sending a malicious link within an email. If you or one of your employees opens this link, your network becomes susceptible to infiltration – these links contain malicious software or credential phishing apparatuses that can allow attackers to gain initial access to your corporate systems.

  • Discover: Once an attacker gains access, it’s only a matter of time before you or your employees lose access to important information and files stored on company devices.

  • Negotiation: Following the discovery of a ransomware attack, the ransomware gang will most likely demand a ransom payment from victims to restore access to their data. Many organizations negotiate this price, while others may consult law enforcement before communicating with the ransomware gang. Paying a ransom is strongly discouraged by the CISA and FBI because payment can incentivize the attackers to inflict further damage on organizations.

  • Settlement: After settling on a ransom price with the gang or working with law enforcement to figure out another method of unlocking your files, you can begin to recover from the attack. You should take this time to update employees and any third-party vendors on the next steps that will be taken after the attack. 

  • Post-Event: Unfortunately, a ransomware attack can damage the credibility and reputation of your organization. It’s also rather common for data to go unrecovered after an attack. While there’s the possibility that your data will never be restored, it is possible to prepare for future attacks. The period after a ransomware attack is a great opportunity to develop or update your plan to avoid a similar loss from occurring in the future. Make sure to wipe the devices that were infected so there are no lingering effects.


Preventing and Preparing Future Attacks

Having a plan is the best way to prevent and respond to a ransomware attack. It’s imperative to make sure your employees are educated on the best practices to take when using the Internet or accessing private data.

Some of these practices include making sure your IT department is regularly updating computer software and performing frequent backups on devices to ensure your information will be restored after a ransomware attack. 

End-users should be trained on using vulnerability detection and prevention software to help you armor up against hackers. In addition to prevention software, it’s strongly recommended that employees be educated in online safety practices. An example of this would be training your employees to take precautions towards clicking external links or visiting certain websites. Ensure they’re well-equipped with training that reflects the ever-changing threat landscape of ransomware attacks. 

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