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How To Detect and Prevent Ransomware Attacks

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Last updated: July 2022

Ransomware and cyberattacks are rising, causing technology leaders to become increasingly concerned about their organization’s data and security. Considering what a breach could cost and how long it would take to recover, it’s no surprise that risk mitigation, response, and prevention of ransomware attacks are at the forefront of every CTO’s mind. Below we’ll break down what ransomware is, how you can identify signs of suspicious activity, and tips for preventing ransomware attacks in your own company.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a term used to describe a form of malicious software that threatens the security and protection of your sensitive information and data. Often, when organizations experience a ransomware attack, they receive threats from the attacker to permanently encrypt the data or information being held hostage unless their demands are met.

As you might guess from the name, ransomware attacks often come with monetary demands from the attacker. Victims are typically given a deadline in which to provide funds before the information is permanently lost. In many cases, paying this ransom is the cheapest and easiest way to recover your information and return to normal operations.

Ransomware attacks do not discriminate based on industry or organization size. Every company faces the possibility of an attack, now or in the future, so knowing the warning signs of an attack and best practices you can take to prepare and prevent ransomware attacks can save you stress, money, and lost time.

Did you know? The average price an organization will pay for a ransomware attack is a staggering $170,000.

How Can Ransomware Attacks Occur?

Ransomware attacks can happen sporadically and spontaneously. Sometimes, all it takes is clicking on a link in an email or text message, visiting an infected website, or interacting with a malicious ad. Once your machine is infected, ransomware can encrypt all forms of files, documents, pictures, or videos. The attack will encrypt your data, lock you out of your operating system, and likely spread to other computers on your network. Once the takeover begins, you’ll have a short window of time to pay the ransom, or you risk losing your data forever.

People looking at code on a computer screen

How Ransomware Impacts Organizations

Since 2020, ransomware attacks have become increasingly common. In fact, the FBI has noted a 300% increase in the frequency of attacks since the onset of COVID-19. Much of this can be attributed to the increase in remote work, in which employees are using and sharing information on systems outside of their office networks.

When a ransomware attack occurs, many impacts can be felt throughout your organization. There’s the obvious monetary impact, which can be detrimental to smaller businesses. Outside of the financial strain, victims of ransomware attacks can feel impacts like:

  • Extended Downtime — in 2021, the average length of time an organization experiences less than 100% productivity is 22 days.
  • Brand Reputation — victims of ransomware attacks often experience negative blowbacks to their company brand or overall reputation, with attacks being seen as a system failure.
  • Data Exposure — if the ransom is not met within the designated time frame, organizations risk sensitive data being exposed publicly, creating undue risk for organizations.
  • Potential for Future Attacks — while ransomware attacks are not a telltale sign of future cyber attacks, there is a possibility that once your system is struck by an attack, the attacker will find new vulnerabilities in your system and exploit them to their advantage.

It’s clear that you should be concerned about preventing ransomware attacks to protect your data and organization.

Fast Fact: The highest total cost of a ransomware attack has reached $1.85 million. In 2021, the total amount of money lost to ransomware attacks topped out at $6.9 billion.

Most Well-Known Ransomware Attackers

Modern ransomware as we know it started with the outbreak of WannaCry in 2017. This massive attack shined a light on ransomware as being a real threat and highly profitable. Since then, a number of other variants have been developed and employed over the years in various attacks.

Here are just a fraction of the more well-known ransomware variants:

Ryuk: Ryuk is well-known for being one of the most types of ransomware in existence, demanding ransoms that average over $1 million. For this reason, Ryuk focuses its attacks on organizations with the budget to afford a ransom of this size.

Maze: This ransomware is famous for being the first variant to combine file encryption and data theft. Maze is a unique ransomware attack in that the cybercriminals start collecting data from victims’ computers before encrypting it.

REvil: Beginning as traditional ransomware, REvil has a similar method to that of Maze: stealing data from businesses while also encrypting the files. Typical targets include large organizations, seeing as ransom payments have reached amounts of $800,000.

Clop: One of the newest and most dangerous ransomware threats, Clop ransomware blocks over 600 processes and disables multiple Windows 10 applications, including Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials.

Lockbit: First detected in 2019, Lockbit is now known for Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS). RaaS poses as a middle man to cybercriminals and victims. They maintain the ransomware malware, facilitate a payment portal for the targeted victim, and deliver those funds to the instigator of the hack.

Here’s A Shocking Statistic: On average, 35% of data is permanently lost when it comes to ransomware attacks.

While ransomware continues to evolve and advance, so too does the technology and strategies to stop it.

system hacked graphic

Tips for Preventing Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a serious threat to businesses and organizations of all sizes. In order to protect your data, it’s important to be aware of the signs of a ransomware attack and take steps to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. Below are 5 simple tips for creating a preparedness plan and preventing a ransomware attack on your organization.

Keep your software and systems up to date.

This includes updating your operating system, applications, and firmware on a regular basis. Hackers often target outdated software with known vulnerabilities as a way to exploit systems.

You wouldn’t use antiquated software for your HR or payroll systems, so in that same vein, you shouldn’t be using legacy systems to protect your operations and data. Outdated security infrastructure is one of the main reasons why organizations fall victim to ransomware attacks. By using current, best-of-breed tools and technologies, you can stay ahead of the curve and protect your data from these types of threats.

Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

Complex passwords that are unique to each account can help to thwart brute force attacks. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional information beyond just a password to gain access. Implementing these security measures can make it more difficult for attackers to compromise user accounts and gain access to sensitive data. Organizations should also consider encrypting their data to make it unreadable in the event that it falls into the wrong hands.

Back up your data regularly.

This is perhaps the most important tip for preventing ransomware attacks. By keeping regular backups of your data, you ensure that even if your system is compromised, you will still have access to your information. Be sure to store backups offline in a secure location to avoid the risk of them being encrypted as well.

Experts advise a 3-2-1 backup approach. This means you should strive to save three copies of all your most critical data in at least two separate locations. One of these copies should be stored offline so that it is out of reach from malicious code and cyber attackers.

When you segment and divvy up where your data is stored, it further bolsters your security defenses, making it more difficult for an attacker to take out your operations in one fell swoop. Another advantage to having your data stored in more than one secure location is that if you do detect a ransomware attack on your organization, you don’t need to shut down your entire system to respond; rather, you just need to isolate and quarantine the segment that is at risk.

Educate employees about best practices.

One of the most effective ways to prevent ransomware attacks is to educate employees about best practices for handling email attachments and links, as well as how to spot suspicious emails. Often, suspicious emails include an urgent request for private information, such as passwords, to avoid the closure of an account. In the heat of the moment, this can convince a recipient to respond and react without thinking thoroughly.

On top of educating your team on how to spot suspicious emails, you should also work together to build out a strong defense plan. By partnering with employees and treating them as part of the solution, organizations can create a powerful line of defense against ransomware and other cyber threats.

As the looming threat of ransomware lingers and grows, it’s imperative that companies have emergency plans in place that integrate teams beyond just the IT department. While IT may be your frontline fighter in preventing ransomware attacks, they need the support of the rest of your team to protect your data and operations.

When you involve all departments and members of your team in the planning process, you can ensure that everyone knows what their roles and responsibilities are and how they can help to mitigate the damage and risk incurred by an attack. Armed with a comprehensive plan, your business can minimize the impact of an attack and prevent ransomware attacks down the road.

Use reputable antivirus/anti-malware software.

Antivirus/anti-malware software can help protect against ransomware by identifying and stopping malicious software before it can encrypt files or data. Be sure to keep this software up-to-date with the latest definitions. You should also have a backup plan in place in case of an attack. This way, you can restore your data from a clean backup if needed. It’s important to note, however, that no security solution is 100% effective, so it’s still important to take other steps to protect your organization.

Organizations hit with a ransomware attack often face difficult decisions with no easy answers. However, by taking steps to prevent attacks and being prepared in the event one does occur, you can help minimize the damage and disruption caused by these threats.

If you think your organization might be at risk for a ransomware attack, or if you’ve already been attacked, you should consider contacting a reputable security firm for help. Cybersecurity is complex, and it’s important to work with experts who can assess your specific situation and needs.\

Bonus Material: Download our eBook for more information on how to prevent ransomware attacks and protect your organization’s data.

How Opti9 Helps You React To and Prevent Ransomware Attacks

Opti9 is a leader in preventing ransomware and detecting attacks quickly. Our solution, Observr, helps aid and advance your defense against cyberattacks and malicious activity. Observr works to offer real-time detection of suspicious activity, helping you identify and prevent ransomware attacks before it becomes a bigger issue. Armed with our tools, you can:

  • Keep your applications and services operable, even in the case of an attack
  • Limit the damage and impact of a ransomware attack
  • Reduce the likelihood and prevent ransomware attacks and data theft altogether

With the support of Opti9 and our cutting-edge solutions, you can isolate at-risk servers, protecting the rest of your data and enabling you to quickly restore and return to normal operations before the damage spreads any further. Since Observr can pinpoint the exact moment of attack, Opti9 can promptly identify your last known clean backup. This two-prong approach saves hours of manual guesswork and restores services much faster.

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Machine Learning To Prevent Ransomware Attacks

Opti9 weaves machine learning into our Observr solution to create an intelligent tool built to detect and flag abnormal behavior surrounding data automatically. This gives you added insight and extra breathing room to detect anomalies, streamline root cause analysis, and reduce false positives. Our tools are built to detect circumstances like:

  • Anomalies related to temporal deviations in values, counts, or frequencies
  • Statistical rarity
  • Unusual behaviors for a member of a population

Our Observr solution uses a range of different techniques like:

  • Clustering — dividing the data points into groups so that data points in the same groups are more similar and data points in different groups are dissimilar
  • Time Series Decomposition — splitting a time series into several components, each representing an underlying pattern, so you can better track and analyze historical trends
  • Bayesian Distribution Modeling — utilizing predictive distribution of previous data to predict the outcome of new, unobserved data
  • Correlation Analysis — discovering the relationship between data by looking at historical and emerging patterns

These analytics provide sophisticated, real-time, automated anomaly detection as it relates to your data. Using these strategies, our tools detect and rank anomalies on a scale of 1-100 to indicate how suspicious and risky the behavior is. This score can then be used to dictate the kind of response you need to make.

While there is no complete guarantee to protect and prevent ransomware attacks, our tools and intelligent solutions can give you the insight you need to detect suspicious behavior early, develop a solid response strategy, and protect your data and operations from further attacks. For a deeper look into our solutions and how we can help prepare and prevent ransomware attacks for your organization, reach out to our team for a free consultation.

Who We Are

Opti9 is a team of cloud-certified specialists delivering hybrid cloud solutions to quickly identify problems, proactively help architect solutions, and directly drive business outcomes for your go-forward strategy. As a national leader in technology consulting focusing on digital transformation, data storage, backup and recovery, and managed cloud services, we take a business-first approach to delivering the best possible protection and outcomes for our clients.

For the last 30 years, we’ve been respected leaders in delivering value by finding the best technology solutions to meet our customer’s business needs so that they can realize the full benefits of the cloud faster. We remain committed to providing outstanding customer service through superior product knowledge, training, technical support, installation assistance, and consulting expertise.

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