One of the most common types of cyberattacks on businesses in the United States is ransomware. In fact, these types of attacks are on the rise, with business email compromise scams becoming even more costly, rising from an average of $48,000 in Q3 of 2020 to $85,000 today.
So, what can you do to arm yourself against ransomware infections? Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do, and it starts with understanding the fundamentals of ransomware attacks, how they perform data breaches, encrypt files, attempt to get you to pay the ransom and then send a decryption key.
What are Ransomware Attacks?
Ransomware is a type of malware that, once having infected your computer systems, encrypts all files related to your network’s critical infrastructure, before attempting to get the victims to pay a hefty sum in order to have those files decrypted (aka return full access).
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How do Ransomware Attacks Work?
As it is with many other things in life, gaining a deeper understanding of the threat you’re facing can help you better defend against it. This is why one of the best ways to learn how to avoid ransomware attacks is to discover exactly how they work and attempt to have you make ransom payments.
Whether you’re facing old or new ransomware attacks, the process on the part of the attacker will be much the same and can be boiled down to a quick 5-step process:
- Initial Infection
The malware is delivered onto your computer systems, usually by way of an email phishing attack using a file attachment with the ransomware embedded within it. The malware will then either work locally on the infected device or try to spread to all other devices on the network.
- Attacker Notification
The nefarious attacker is notified (by the malware) that a victim has been infected and can now encrypt their files.
- File Encryption
The ransomware encrypts as many files as it possibly can (usually all of them) and may even be able to hamper a backup attempt (which would nullify the threat of the ransomware itself). Once encrypted, the victim will be unable to access any of their organization’s files.
- Extortion Most Vile
It’s at this point the victim is notified by the attacker that their data is no longer theirs to control, often with a threatening message, e.g. “Pay us $70 million or your data is gone.”
The ransomware attacker even has the option of transferring the data itself, which may result in a threat of releasing your data to the public, something a backup wouldn’t protect you against.
- Getting Your Data Recovered
In this final step, many victimized businesses are left with two options (generally) either pay and hope the attacker makes good on their promise to decrypt the data (which they rarely do) or attempt to remove the infection and recover the data manually.
How do I Protect My Data and Networks from Ransomware Attacks?
While nothing is ever set in stone, there are a few things you can have in place to give yourself as much protection as possible against a potential ransomware attack.
- Ensure Automated Backups are In-Place
Frequent backups are a must as they will usually allow you to restore the encrypted data right away.
- Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multiple layers to authenticate information is highly important. If a cyber criminal gains access to a piece of information, such as your password, further steps are required to gain access to your account
- Have Separate Storage for Backups
If you’re wondering how to stop ransomware attacks in their tracks, having your backed-up data on an external hard drive that’s unconnected to your main network is a great strategy.
- Train Yourself and Your Employees
Knowing is half the battle and the whole hassle! Teaching your staff how to avoid these infections in the first place will be the most effective strategy against ransomware attacks and how to prevent them from occurring at all.
How Can I Prevent Ransomware Attacks?
If you want to know how to prevent ransomware attacks in the cloud or how to prevent ransomware attacks on servers, the steps to take are identical:
- Don’t Click on Links from Unknown Websites
Just don’t! No clicking on any spam messages or links from unknown sources. Once you do, the infection has begun.
- Avoid Revealing Personal Information
Malicious cyber-criminals planning a ransomware attack may attempt to gain your personal information in order to make the actual attack more effective. If you get suspicious calls, texts or emails asking for personal info, don’t give it up.
- Only Use USB Devices You Trust
While it may seem unlikely, it happens all too frequently. Hackers attempting an attack sometimes leave infected USBs in public places, or send them through the mail as mysterious ‘gifts’. Never connect a USB stick unless you’re 100% it can be trusted.
- Make Use of VPNs on Public Wireless Networks
If you or any employees use a public Wi-Fi network without using a protective VPN, attackers can use that as a means of infecting your network.
- Update Operating Systems and Programs Regularly
This may sound like an obvious point, but outdated anti-virus programs or operating systems are gaping vulnerabilities in your system’s critical infrastructure. That’s where hiring the right cybersecurity experts or a cybersecurity firm can make all the difference.
- Only Download Files from Known Sources
It’s not only emails from which a ransomware infection can be contracted, but corrupted downloads as well. That’s why neither you nor your employees should ever download software or media from sketchy websites.
How do I Respond to a Ransomware Attack?
If failing all the advice listed above, you still find yourself the victim of a ransomware attack, here are the first three things you should do:
- Isolate the Infected System
This initial step is crucial for preventing the spread of the infection, and benefits from a rapid response and early detection. Quickly remove the device from the network by disabling its wireless capabilities and disconnect all other hardwired connections.
- Power Off All Other Computers and Devices
If they haven’t been fully infected by the ransomware attack yet, shut down all devices on the network to stop the spread.
- Secure Your Backups
Double-check that your data is offline and secure. And if possible, scan the backed-up data with an antivirus program.
- Contact Your IT Department and/or Law Enforcement Agencies
It’s essential you get assistance from qualified experts immediately.
Even with tips learned in the article, the best thing you can do to protect yourself against ransomware attacks is to enlist the aid of a qualified, experienced managed IT service provider to handle these situations when they crop up.