In the world of cybersecurity, ransomware is all anyone can even talk about and for good reason. These attacks are taking down oil pipelines, shutting down public schools, and paralyzing insurance carriers to name a few targets.
This is a massive issue that’s costing businesses millions of dollars and prompting legislation in the United States Congress. The consequences of ransomware are far-reaching and have the potential to affect us all on an economic and national security level.
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What Is Ransomware and How Does it Work?
Ransomware is a form of malware that’s intended to deny access to valuable assets, systems, or data for the purposes of demanding a ransom. This is typically done by encrypting the target’s information which only the attackers have the keys to, effectively holding the victim hostage.
What would a hostage situation be without a ransom? Attackers usually demand payment in some form of cryptocurrency, which is difficult, if not impossible to trace. However, it’s a toss-up as to whether the attacker holds up their end of the bargain and releases the encrypted information once payment is complete. According to Sophos, 96% of companies got their data back once they paid up.
Ransomware attacks occur through all kinds of attack vectors including network vulnerabilities, insider threats, logic bomb attacks, software vulnerabilities, phishing attacks, and about any other avenue. All that’s needed for a ransomware attack to occur is an opening for an attacker to install the encrypting malware on a system.
Notable Ransomware Attacks
Let’s get a better idea of what ransomware attacks look like out in the wild. Here are a couple of the more notable ransomware attacks that have occurred in recent years to give you an idea of what it looks like when you’re the target.
WannaCry Attack (2017)
The WannaCry ransomware attack was a widespread worm that was spread through a Windows networking protocol. The attack spread to thousands of computers, encrypted victim’s files, and demanded a ransom of $300 in Bitcoin to release the information.
One interesting thing about this attack is it was completely avoidable. The Windows exploit was already fixed by a patch two months before the attacks began and notified users to update their systems to incorporate it. Those who didn’t update their systems were at risk of being attacked by this malware.
The lesson here is to always stay on top of your software and system updates. Not only do they fix glitches and bugs, but developers are also always on the lookout for exploits and vulnerabilities.
GoldenEye Attack (2017)
You know a malware attack is serious when it’s named after a James Bond movie. Regarded as the “deadly sibling” to WannaCry, the GoldenEye ransomware attack operated in a similar fashion, only this time the encryption went after access to the entire computer itself.
Once victims were infected by the GoldenEye ransomware, their system would crash and upon restart, were greeted by this message:
The good news is that the decryption key for the GoldenEye ransomware was released that same year by the author, meaning those infected could unlock their systems for free.
How Do You Get Rid of Ransomware?
Wait, wait, wait. We made a meme for this. Hold on a second.
OK, while this answer might be a little simplistic, it’s not too far off. It’s extremely difficult to get rid of ransomware, which is the entire point.
Attackers lock you out of your data and systems using encryptions that are nearly impossible to crack, which explains why so many companies are paying up instead of removing the problem in the first place. Short of the attacker giving up the decryption key as was the case with GoldenEye, there’s little chance you’ll get rid of ransomware without losing some information.
Ransomware is a problem best fought preventatively, rather than reactively. In the end, preventing ransomware attacks costs you far less than suffering one does because aside from the ransom payment, the subsequent investigations and potential regulations violations costs you even more in fines. To give you some perspective, the average cost of a ransomware attack is around $1.85 million as of 2021.
How Do You Avoid Ransomware Attacks?
Now, this is the better question. Preventing and avoiding ransomware is far easier and more cost-effective than rooting out and fending off an attack in progress. Here are some steps you can take to avoid ransomware and save your organization the frustration of losing access to their data, systems, and devices.
Install System and Software Updates in a Timely Manner
Updates aren’t just released to fix bugs or improve the user interface of an operating system or software program. Many patches include security improvements, including fixes for exploits and vulnerabilities. Hackers are always on the lookout for exposed systems and ignoring your updates only increases the likelihood of ransomware sneaking its way into your organization.
Back Up Your Data Regularly
Creating backups for your data and systems gives your organization the breathing room to continue functioning even in the event of a ransomware attack. These backups allow you to create restoration points on your systems that wipe away any changes made to your systems within a specific time frame without losing all of the valuable business data you’ve accumulated in that time.
Install Antimalware Software
In case your other prevention methods fail, it’s good to have an anti-malware software solution installed on your systems and devices that can detect, quarantine, and remove malicious software. This software should run scans on a regular basis and the vendor must maintain an up-to-date catalog of all types of malware so that newer attacks aren’t able to slip through the cracks.
Educate Your Employees on How to Avoid Malware
Outside of system vulnerabilities, your people are a massive attack vector that hackers look to exploit. Attackers regularly employ all kinds of sneaky methods to trick employees into downloading seemingly harmless files or clicking on supposedly useful links only to embed malicious software onto their systems, locking them out of their valuable data and devices. It’s critical to train your employees to spot suspicious emails and download links that have the potential to expose their devices to ransomware.
Employ Advanced Network Firewalls
Knowing who and what comes and goes on your network is also a strong preventative measure in the fight against ransomware. Stateful and next-generation firewalls use different types of packet inspection and internet protocol (IP) address inspection to sort out valid and malicious traffic meandering in and out of your network. This way your security infrastructure can detect potential ransomware attacks before they even enter your network.
Always Err on the Side of Caution
Considering the vast unknowns of working online, it’s always best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, especially considering the growing threats on the internet. That’s why it’s crucial to stay on top of the latest security updates, tools, and trends. If you’re looking to update your security stack, consider Digital.com as your resource for the best reviews of security software, including antivirus software, VPN providers, and other cybersecurity vendors.