Lock Up Your Jewels: Reducing Exposure and Limiting Risk in a Ransomware-Riddled World
Ransomware is on the rise. That’s an often-repeated statement in the headlines — but what does it really mean for companies?
Data tells the tale. According to Tech Republic, attacks surged 57 percent between October 2020 and March 2021, while Purple Sec’s 2021 Cyber Security Trends Report notes that ransomware attacks have grown 350 percent since 2018. What’s more, the average ransomware payment rose by 82 percent to $570,000, with the largest single ransom demand coming in at $100 million.
Now that attackers have successfully breached some business networks, companies are understandably worried about the risk of data exfiltration leading to downtime or revenue losses. As Security Boulevard points out, companies now spend almost $2 million to recover after an attack and, on average, suffer 21 days of downtime. Even more worrisome? Paying up doesn’t guarantee the return of encrypted data. Attackers may decide to keep or destroy data or return for another round of attacks once they know payment is possible.
What’s the bottom line? Reducing exposure and limiting risk requires more than recognizing that ransomware is on the rise. To combat these attacks and safeguard what matters, companies need solid strategies backed by advanced cybersecurity solutions.
Ransomware Attacks in the Headlines
Although attackers often target smaller businesses to reduce the risk of getting caught, that hasn’t stopped some groups from prioritizing bigger payouts. Case in point: The Colonial Pipeline attack. On May 7th, 2021, staff found a digital ransom note saying that attackers had already exfiltrated data from Colonial’s network. The company immediately suspended both IT and operations, leading to sudden interruptions in fuel delivery along the East Coast. Within a day, Colonial paid the $5 million ransom and began getting their systems re-secured and back online.
Also making the news were attacks using the REvil ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) suite. According to the Department of Justice, a Ukrainian national was arrested in conjunction with attacks spanning the last three years, including the July 2021 attack of information technology company Kaseya. While Kaseya says it didn’t pay the ransom demanded, it took the company ten days to recover from the attack and bring their software-as-a-service (SaaS) servers back online.
Why is Ransomware on the Rise?
So what’s driving the rise of ransomware? Several factors are converging that make ransomware attacks easier than ever before.
Enhanced RaaS Tools
Taking a cue from legitimate businesses, some capable coders have created ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) platforms that sell both basic and customized attack tools to interested parties. The result is a win-win for hackers: They take money up-front from buyers while simultaneously reducing their risk since they’re not actually carrying out the attacks. Many RaaS marketplaces now resemble more familiar eCommerce offerings. Attack designers offer promotions, sales, and even customer support to keep clients coming back.
Expanded Attack Surfaces
Ransomware is also on the rise, thanks to expanding attack surfaces. With more potential avenues of attack — via mobile connections, internet of things (IoT) networks, or open-source software deployments — attackers can pick and choose their preferred compromise method. This reality is forcing IT staff to look to secure multiple points of potential compromise.
Evolved Work Environments
With remote and hybrid work here to stay, businesses now face the challenge of securing networks both in the office and at a distance. For many, however, the abrupt initial shift to remote work created insecure frameworks that remain in use but lack proper protection.
What are the Common Attack Vectors?
The constant evolution of technology means that attackers are always exploring new avenues of compromise. For example, the rise in open source software and application programming interfaces (APIs) has changed how businesses design and develop new services while simultaneously expanding the attack surface.
Despite occasional boundary-pushing, however, most attackers prefer to stick with tried-and-true ransomware vectors.
Remote desktop protocol (RDP)
The remote desktop protocol makes it possible for administrators to access servers and desktops anywhere, anytime. But RDP also opens the door to ransomware attacks. If malicious actors steal legitimate account credentials, they can leverage RDP to access networks, install ransomware, and leave without detection.
In 2020 alone, bad actors created almost seven million phishing emails and scam pages. Using promises of COVID vaccines or masquerading as instructions from C-suite executives, these emails create a compromise point for ransomware. If attackers can convince users to click on malicious links or provide account information, they can infiltrate networks and deploy ransomware.
Open-source software tools and APIs make it possible for companies to streamline software development and put them at risk of unknown or zero-day vulnerabilities. If attackers compromise unreported issues, they can gain network access and encrypt data before teams have a chance to respond.
Distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are now being used in concert with ransomware. In some cases, cybercriminals hit companies with DDoS attacks and demand ransom for restoration of services. In others, DDoS efforts are used as a distraction while ransomware is deployed.
Combatting the Rise of Ransomware Attacks
To combat the rise of ransomware, companies are best served with a multi-step approach designed to reduce both the initial risk and overall impact of ransomware threats.
Step 1: Identify Your Assets
First, pinpoint what you need to protect on your network. Think of the most critical assets as the “crown jewels” of your organization. Where are they located, and how are they currently defended?
Step 2: Prioritize Your Vulnerabilities
Next, conduct a security assessment — either in-house or using a third party — to determine where your risks lie. While on-site IT teams have greater familiarity with your network, using in-house personnel may be a security drawback because they may not recognize potential vulnerabilities. By contrast, third-party evaluators can often attack your network in unexpected ways to discover new or undiscovered weaknesses.
Step 3: Secure Your Workforce
Without a secure workforce, efforts at ransomware reduction won’t be effective. Addressing this issue requires the use of tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect connections and data. You should also deploy zero-trust security solutions that require two (or more) factor authentication and include robust identity and access management (IAM).
Step 4: Reduce Your Response Time
When attacks occur, you need to react ASAP. This rapid response requires the use of advanced cybersecurity solutions that help unify infosec response with end-to-end visibility that empowers teams to react in real-time.
Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe
Ransomware isn’t going anywhere. Attackers are constantly looking for new ways to compromise systems or leveraging tried-and-true methods to slip past IT security. Add in the risk of RaaS, increasing attack surfaces, and hybrid work, and it’s clear that companies need defensive strategies capable of finding, detecting, and defeating ransomware attacks no matter what form they take and no matter what vector they use.
Ready to ramp up your ransomware defense? Click here and see how Red Seal can help.