Ransomware is vicious malware that locks a computer’s files or systems until the victim pays a fee. It leads to downtime, lost data and possibly intellectual property theft—and in certain industries, an attack is considered a data breach. Cybercriminals typically deliver ransomware by attaching it to emails with phishing attachments and through social engineering attacks. However, it can also spread through chat messages, removable Universal Serial Bus (USB) drives and browser plugins.
Typically, backups are meant to protect data and systems from malware threats. However, they can’t offer protection against ransomware itself. Ransomware attacks scramble or delete data and then demand payment to regain access. The attack also disables computer systems, meaning IT teams must reimage the network, recover data from backups, and reapply patches. These steps can be costly regarding downtime, employee productivity, and brand reputation. As such, companies need to know how to prevent ransomware and consider additional preventive measures from Fortinet to thwart ransomware and its impact. It includes implementing a cybersecurity ecosystem of partnerships with preventative solutions such as antivirus software and Security Awareness Training for employees. It is also important to conduct regular backups of data and store them offline or preferably offsite. The frequency of backups depends on the size of an organization, but generally speaking, the more frequent, the better — within reason. It is also essential to use immutable backups, which are encrypted before they are stored. Because ransomware assaults cannot encrypt or delete immutable backups, ensuring a clean recovery is crucial. Immutable backups can also be scanned for ransomware and other infections before storage to prevent reinfection. In addition, companies should consider using multi-tiered storage to store data at multiple locations to avoid the loss of a single copy.
Despite the best efforts of security teams, malware attacks continue to happen. Zero-day vulnerabilities, deployment mistakes and human error create holes in security that attackers eagerly exploit. Infections with ransomware are no exception. Attackers have used these attacks to extort money from victims, taking control of their systems and data until a fee is paid. Fortunately, the impact can be limited by having appropriate procedures in place. Backups are essential, but it’s also important to have a solid antivirus solution that detects suspicious activity and prevents the spread of malware across your network. Antivirus software can prevent ransomware infections by detecting and blocking malicious activities such as changing file extensions, monitoring keystrokes and connecting to remote servers. Ransomware is commonly delivered via email, so ensuring that your organization’s email solutions can perform attachment sandboxing and URL filtering to block malicious links and downloads will reduce the chances of an attack. Disabling connections from unknown USB sticks or external storage devices is also a good idea since they can include malware like scareware, which impersonates real security software to lure users into paying, or ransomware. Regularly updating your software is another critical security measure. Many malware attacks leverage flaws in outdated software to gain access. Keeping your system up to date will eliminate these weaknesses.
Disable Access to Remote Servers
From schools and shipping agencies to hospitals and medical trials, ransomware attacks affect organizations of all sizes. These malware infections can halt critical operations, lock files or block access to systems and devices. Cybercriminals hold data hostage and demand a ransom payment to return it. Attackers often choose specific targets based on the organization’s size or whether it houses sensitive information. Attackers also may choose organizations based on the likelihood that they’ll pay a ransom. Universities, for example, are a popular target for attackers, as they have smaller security teams and a diverse user base that can spread the infection. Law firms and healthcare facilities are also targeted for their ability to pay quickly to restore access to data. Implementing layered security controls, such as network, endpoint, and edge safeguards supported by actionable threat intelligence, is crucial to preventing these and other threats. These controls can include file sandboxing, URL filtering, application whitelisting, and enabling security settings to disable remote directory access. Another key best practice is maintaining offline data backups and implementing email and mobile device management (MDM) solutions with attachment sandboxing, URL filtering and other detection capabilities to block malware and prevent users from clicking on malicious links. Firewalls and secure gateways with advanced security settings can also be configured to detect, quarantine, or block suspicious network traffic and generate alerts for potential threats.
Isolate the Infected Device
When dealing with ransomware, isolating the infected device as much as possible from the centralized network is essential. It will help prevent the spread of malware to other systems and devices. To do this, disconnect any wired connections, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth access and disable any automated backups on local or external storage. It’s also a good idea to use granular reporting and analysis to identify which users and systems have been impacted by the attack. Utilizing this information, the firm may enhance its cybersecurity procedures. It’s important to report the attack to authorities as soon as possible. It will provide valuable information about the attack and may aid in recovering lost or encrypted data. While the practices can minimize the impact of a ransomware attack, it’s important to remember that these attacks are not always preventable. It is why it’s important to have an effective response plan in place when dealing with ransomware and other threats. Organizations must be able to quickly share threat intelligence with their internal security layers and products and the broader cybersecurity community. This rapid sharing can provide a real-time actionable defense to stop unseen ransomware infections in their tracks and break the cyber kill chain before they mutate or spread. In addition, it’s important to utilize tools that offer a continuous stream of real-time threat intelligence to block ransomware and other unseen malware attacks in their earliest stages.