January 4, 2023

Ransomware attacks are one of the costliest and most disruptive attacks for organizations of all sizes, and ransomware prevention is an important part of every enterprise’s cybersecurity program. Although there is no guarantee against a ransomware attack, there are many ways to enable prevention. Let’s explore how to prevent ransomware attacks through a variety of tactics. 

What Is a Ransomware Attack?

A ransomware attack occurs when malicious actors infiltrate an organization’s network and lock their data or systems until (and sometimes after) they pay a ransom. Attackers typically promise to release the decryption key in exchange for the payout, but paying the ransom doesn’t actually guarantee that the organization’s access will be restored. 

How Does a Ransomware Attack Affect the Enterprise?

A ransomware attack can have many implications, ranging from loss of data or data integrity, lost revenue, reputational damage, class-action lawsuits, and even the inability to attract new funding through investors. 

Data Corruption

Data corruption may occur during a ransomware attack because the attackers extrapolate various data. For example, it’s common for attackers to exfiltrate data before encrypting the organization’s access so they can compel them to pay the ransom. 

Lost Data

The enterprise’s stolen data may be lost forever, which is why there should always be secure, offsite backups to facilitate restoration. Offsite backups are especially important because attackers may also encrypt any backup that’s directly connected to the network. 

Lost Revenue

Revenue losses may occur due to downtime and loss of customer trust after a ransomware attack. A large-scale attack may disrupt operations for days and possibly even weeks, and some companies lose millions of dollars as a result. 

Tarnished Reputation

A company’s reputation depends on its customers’ trust. Without a rock-solid reputation, organizations may lose potential new business. Ransomware attacks are very public events, often making the headlines, which makes them more damaging to the organization’s reputation. 

Class-Action Lawsuits

Certain organizations, particularly those within heavily regulated industries (e.g., insurance, financial services, healthcare) are subject to much stricter cybersecurity regulations. If the attack was due to shortcomings in the company’s cybersecurity program or policies, the company may be subject not only to fines, but also to class-action lawsuits from customers who seek compensation for damages. 

Difficulty Attracting New Investors

Investors are hesitant to provide funding to any company that is considered a high risk. No matter how solid the business model or product, a ransomware attack may raise a red flag to potential investors, indicating that the organization has gaps in its cyber defenses that could result in financial losses. 

Tactics that Enable Prevention of Ransomware Attacks

Proper planning is key to enabling prevention of ransomware attacks. The tactics listed here provide a starting point.

Implement Backups

Backing up the enterprise’s data securely offsite is important, because anything connected to the network is at risk in a ransomware attack. Use the 3-2-1 best practice: maintain at least three sets of the data, in at least two different mediums, with at least one copy stored offsite. 

Create and Practice a Coordinated Plan

Preparedness involves more than just backing up data. Organizations need to arm employees with knowledge of what to do during a ransomware attack, especially since employees may not realize the danger until it’s too late, and may be scared to report the problem. A coordinated plan involves several cross-functional teams across the organization, not just the IT department.  

Ensure the Proper Port Settings

Ports are a common ransomware attack vector. Attackers are constantly scanning for open ports to exploit and then use brute force to gain access to systems.

Harden All Endpoints

Endpoint detection and response enables the enterprise to continuously monitor endpoints for suspicious or malicious behavior. In addition to implementing endpoint protection such as anti-malware, organizations should address other vulnerabilities, such as remote access. 

Keep Software and Systems Up to Date

Ransomware operators frequently exploit security weaknesses in software and systems. Malicious actors know that many organizations take a long time to apply patches after they’re available from a vendor, and they take advantage of this window of opportunity.   

Implement Company-Wide Security Awareness Training

Regular training for employees can stimulate tremendous confidence in their ability to prevent a ransomware attack. It’s better for them to over-report on benign activities than to ignore suspicious ones. 

Educate team members about various types of threats, including ransomware, and what they can do to keep the organization safe: 

  • Avoid clicking on unknown links
    Phishing is a common ransomware attack vector. Employees may unknowingly click on dangerous links that come from a spoofed email address.

    Attackers often pretend to be a company manager or director sending an email with a compelling reason for clicking the link. Unbeknownst to the employee, clicking downloads an executable file that infects the computer with malware. As part of the larger security awareness program, phishing awareness and education helps employees understand this threat and how to respond to a suspected phishing attempt. 
  • Don’t disclose personal information 
    Social engineering is a very effective way for ransomware attackers to gain access to the company’s infrastructure. The list of methods used within social engineering is virtually limitless.  

    Train employees not to disclose personal information to outside parties and on social media, as well as the warning signs to watch for when communicating with people both inside and outside the organization. 
  • Avoid Opening Email Attachments from Unknown Senders  
    This goes hand in hand with clicking on unknown links. Educate employees not to open email attachments from unknown senders until they can confirm the sender’s authenticity and antivirus software scans the email attachment.  
  • Don’t Use a USB Drive from Unknown Sources  
    Along the same lines as being suspicious of unknown email senders, implement a policy to prevent employees from accidentally infecting their devices via malicious USB drives, especially when these drives come from unknown sources. 

Require VPNs When Using Unsecured Wi-Fi

When employees access corporate data using public Wi-Fi, malicious actors can intercept the connection for various purposes, such as stealing sensitive information. A virtual private network (VPN) provides a layer of protection by encrypting the internet connection. 

Identity Security and Ransomware Attacks

SailPoint provides visibility into who has access to the right systems at the right time. Schedule a demo to learn how identity security enables prevention of ransomware attacks.  

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