By |Published On: December 18th, 2023|12 min read|Categories: Ransomware|

The Guide to Ransomware Solutions in 2023

Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly common, more sophisticated and more expensive to address. The dark reality is that many victims of this crime remain silent, as they pay hackers quietly in an attempt to get their stolen data back. BlackFog’s latest State of Ransomware Report estimated that the total number of attacks is 473 percent higher than just those reported.

In 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received almost 2,400 reports of ransomware attacks, with adjusted losses totaling more than $34 million. Research suggests that by 2031, organizations will suffer a ransomware attack every other second, causing nearly $265 billion in damages globally.

It’s a growing problem and ransomware criminals are working hard to stay on top of their game. This means they are attracting highly skilled talent to commit attacks, innovating advanced malware and fine-tuning methods to identify the most lucrative opportunities.

Businesses need to have solid ransomware protection solutions, a comprehensive incident response plan and a disaster recovery strategy in place to mitigate the constantly evolving risk of these attacks. A permanent lockout at the hands of hackers could destroy any organization, so the best way to protect your business is to act now.

What is Ransomware?

Ransom malware, otherwise known as ransomware, is an increasingly common type of attack that prevents authorized users from accessing their data, networks and systems. To regain access, the victim is held to ransom and asked to make a payment.

Threat actors carry out these attacks by encrypting confidential assets using tools that are specifically designed to spread throughout entire organizations. It is a constantly evolving risk and many different variants of ransomware currently exist.

There are several factors behind the prevalence of ransomware in the modern world. Firstly, malware kits are relatively easy for criminals to acquire and can be used to create new malware samples on demand. 

On top of this, an abundance of new techniques are constantly being discovered, as the tools deployed by perpetrators continue to become more and more sophisticated. Put simply, technology has advanced so far that today’s threat actors don’t even need to have a solid understanding of the specific tools they use. 

Ransomware marketplaces have become more popular throughout the internet, offering all of the ingredients a crook would need to instigate a devastating attack. Often, these vendors will receive a cut of any ransom the criminals achieve, making it a lucrative deal for both parties.

How Does a Ransomware Attack Work?

A successful ransomware attack can enter your system through several methods, although the most popular point of entry is through spam emails being downloaded. This, in turn, launches the program that begins to attack your network.

Other common entry methods include downloading malicious software from the internet, social engineering, or fake adverts that release malware when clicked. Threat actors can even target your sensitive information through removable drives, or simple chat messages.

Once a ransomware attacker has infiltrated your systems, they will set up a command and control (C&C) server, which not only sends encryption keys to the specific target, but also installs extra malware and supports other stages of the ransomware lifecycle.

From there, they will collate information about the victim network, before spreading the attack to other devices and boosting their access privileges to obtain valuable and confidential information.

Attackers will then proceed to exfiltrate your data to their C&C server to prepare for future extortions, as the information will be encrypted via the keys sent previously. Once set up, they will demand a ransom payment, and only at that point will your organization become aware of what is happening.

What are Some Common Ransomware Examples?

Ransomware attacks can present in many different forms. As such, protecting your organization requires a solid grasp of various attack scenarios.

The majority of ransomware attacks begin with a phishing scam. This is when threat actors attempt to gain classified or sensitive information, like passwords and credit card details. Usually, the individuals carrying out a phishing attack will be doing so for malicious reasons.

These emails are easy to create and send, which means for cybercriminals, they often present a lucrative return on investment. In any given security chain, the human element is the weakest link.

Results can be the most devastating when a victim is unaware of a phishing attempt. A scam designed by a competent criminal will look and feel as if it was sent by a credible source, but contain or link to malicious ransomware that will activate when a user clicks on it, which encrypts files and can often lead to the potential loss of critical data.

Despite a wide variety of ransomware types, most successful attacks are based on a small number of solutions. In 2022, 50 percent of all reported ransomware scenarios came from just four variants: LockBit (16 percent), BlackCat (13 percent), Hive (12 percent) and Conti (nine percent).

What Does Ransomware Allow Hackers to Do?

As the name suggests, hackers use ransomware to demand victims pay them money. It’s one of the most profitable tactics in the cybercriminal playbook, with ransom figures averaging $850,700 per payout and some even reaching up to $10 million. 

Unfortunately, for businesses that fall victim to ransomware attacks, there is no guarantee of getting their stolen data back upon paying the ransom. Not only could it be withheld, but hackers could sell it to other malicious third parties via the dark web. In terms of extorting money from victims, there are two main methods used by ransomware groups.

Data Encryption

Every ransomware attack depends on the cybercriminal gaining access to their victim’s data, then encrypting it and demanding payment for its decryption. The specific method of encryption will differ with each type of ransomware variant.

Once ransomware has gained access to an organization’s classified information, it will search through files of certain types. Modern variants can be self-spreading, which means upon entering a network through a single endpoint, like a mobile phone, they can infiltrate any other devices connected and steal even more data, consequently increasing the ransom amount.

Data Theft

Businesses that fall victim to a ransomware attack are instructed not to make the payment and instead report the crime and accept their losses. As a result, hackers have started looking at other ways to extort their victims.

So, before encrypting the stolen data, hackers may take a close look at the infected device with the hope of discovering compromising or detrimental information to use as leverage for a ransom payment.

This technique is also known as double extortion ransomware. Typically, an attack will only involve data encryption, but the additional risk of exfiltration is a particularly dangerous threat for organizations in all industries.

How Big is the Danger of Ransomware?

Ransomware is a very popular malicious activity for criminals, primarily because of the return on investment it offers them. With very little effort, hackers could walk away from any given attack with millions of dollars.

The unfortunate reality of ransomware activity is that it’s attracting more sophisticated and experienced cybercriminals and organizations, who are carefully selecting the most lucrative targets.

What Are the Best Strategies to Prevent Ransomware?

When it comes to ransomware, the best way to defend your company is ransomware prevention. Once cybercriminals have access to sensitive information, it can be extremely difficult to neutralize the threat they pose and data loss is very likely.

In some situations, a ransomware threat could halt a business entirely and even if an organization can get back to operating quickly, the costs involved in doing so can cause significant issues elsewhere. 

Threat actors will always pick the softest targets, so having comprehensive anti-ransomware solutions in place is imperative. Additionally, ransomware readiness is paramount. This means exercising data security, implementing zero trust policies and knowing exactly where your most valuable data is stored, as well as the implications of a breach, as this will help you to identify what you would need to recover as a bare minimum, in the event of an attack.

What Can You Do if a Ransomware Attack Occurs?

If you become aware of a ransomware attack on your own business, take action immediately to mitigate damage, before thinking about whether or not you are going to pay the ransom.

Depending on your industry and legal requirements, your organization may be obligated to report the ransomware incident before taking any further steps. Following that, the first step should be isolating the infected endpoint from the wider network to prevent the spread of the ransomware.

Then, like you would a real virus, attempt to identify exactly what type of ransomware variant you’re dealing with. Make sure your backup data is secure and shut down regular processes, such as maintenance tasks.

It’s not advisable to meet the ransom demand, even if it does feel like the easiest way to get your data back. This only encourages criminals to continue extorting other businesses. Not to mention, paying up can lead to civil penalties and on top of that, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your stolen data back. In fact, only half of firms do recover their lost information.

In some cases, decryption tools can be used for ransomware recovery capabilities, but this won’t be true for a large portion of attacks. The technologies used by cybercrime groups are becoming more and more advanced, so it’s best not to rely on getting your data back this way.

How Do You Protect Your Business from Ransomware?

Whether or not your business has been a target of cybercrime, the best way to avoid it happening is by taking preventative measures. Even with the best perimeter defense in place to keep hackers out, they are innovative and will typically find a way in. Therefore, the focus must be on ransomware protection software that stops them from taking any data out. 

Anti data exfiltration (ADX) is a set-and-forget solution that stops data from leaving your network. This bolsters cybersecurity defenses against a wide variety of attacks, including a ransomware infection. So, instead of relying on endpoint security measures to protect your data, hackers can be stopped in their tracks as an attack is attempted. 

By shifting the focus to behavioral characteristics, ADX can block data leaving your network under specific conditions, including attempted communication with command-and-control centers and the use of dark web protocols. This level of threat intelligence also eliminates the requirement to send data for analysis by blocking unauthorized access attempts immediately.

Learn more about how BlackFog protects enterprises from the threats posed by ransomware.

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