Avoid Ransomware Attacks: Don’t Let Attackers Dwell in Your Network

Avoid Ransomware Attacks: Don’t Let Attackers Dwell in Your Network
8 minute read

Ransomware attacks are hard to recover from but can be easy to avoid - provided your organization works with a strong cybersecurity partner and is prepared with the required security posture. Understanding how to avoid ransomware attacks is becoming increasingly critical for businesses as the number and severity of these types of cybersecurity attacks continues to surge.

Let's find out how to avoid ransomware attacks and keep your data safe.

Understanding the Essential Facts About Ransomware

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that gains access to a target’s digital assets and blocks access to them until the victim pays a ransom to the attacker. After the target pays the ransom, the malicious actor may return the access. Even if the attackers do restore access to the digital assets in question, the data remains compromised.

How Ransomware Attacks Work

Once cybercriminals gain access to your data, they usually use encryption to prevent you from accessing it. When you pay the ransom, you may receive a decryption key allowing you to restore access.

Malicious actors prefer attacking organizations because they are more likely to pay the ransom quickly than individuals. For example, government organizations or medical facilities require instant access to data to avoid emergencies or compliance violations.

Types of Ransomware

  • Encrypting ransomware – malware that leverages encryption to block access to the victim's data assets.
  • Locker ransomware – malware that invades the user's computers, servers, or other devices and locks all the assets.
  • Master boot record ransomware – malware that overwrites Master Boot Record (a record that shows your computer where to locate the operating system), so users can't start the computer and gain access to files.
  • Mobile ransomware – malware that affects mobile devices. Usually, it locks a device's screen or encrypts the data to prevent users from gaining access.
  • Ransomware-as-a-Services (RaaS) – an illegal business model which involves ransomware developers providing ransomware services (i.e., launching an attack on the organization).
  • Scareware – malware that tricks a user into downloading a malicious program that eventually infects their computer and demands a ransom.
  • DDoS-based ransomware – a scheme that involves malicious actors threatening a victim with DDoS attacks and agreeing not to launch them in exchange for ransom.
  • Ransomware with data exfiltration – theft and removal of important data with a promise to return it in exchange for ransom.

Dwell Time in Cybersecurity

Avoiding an attack is the best way to keep your data safe. However, once the attack begins, you still have time to minimize damages. To do that, you have to act fast.

What Is Dwell Time in Cybersecurity?

Dwell time in cybersecurity is the time malicious actors have to access your data before malware is detected and removed. The longer an attacker remains in the system undetected, the more damage it can cause to the data and make a large ransomware attack possible.

It takes, on average, 280 days to identify and contain a ransomware attack. During this time, attackers may be dwelling in their victim’s network, causing damage, stealing information, and spreading malware. The longer they remain unnoticed, the harder it is to avoid severe attack consequences.

Factors That Can Impact Dwell Time

Factors that can impact dwell time include:

  • The expertise of the attacked
  • The complexity of the network
  • Level of security control
  • Level of security awareness and training
  • Type of cybersecurity software

If the organization implements top-notch cybersecurity measures, the dwell time decreases substantially.

Strategies to minimize dwell time

You can minimize dwell time by implementing:

  • Real-time system monitoring
  • Regular cybersecurity assessments
  • Top-notch security tools and software
  • High-quality incident response plan
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • User access privileges
  • Regular security testing
  • Increasing ransomware awareness

Implementing the latest cybersecurity measures and managed threat intelligence is key to dwell time minimization. However, preventive measures are still the focus of ransomware risk mitigation.

Recognizing a Ransomware Attack

When a ransomware attack begins, it may not always be obvious. Knowing what to look for can help minimize dwell time and prevent serious consequences for your business.

Unusual File Extensions or Changes

If you notice unusual file extensions on files you usually work with, it's a red flag. This means an attacker is encrypting the file or making it otherwise inaccessible. Once this happens, you can't open the file.

Pop-Up Ransomware Messages

You may notice a pop-up message that tells you about the ransomware attack and demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. At this point, you no longer have access to your data and need to take immediate action.

Unexpected Encryption

Suddenly, files that you usually use become inaccessible due to encryption. You can see the file but can't take advantage of the data inside.

Slow System Performance of High CPU Usage

When a ransomware attack begins, your computer can react by slowing down. If you notice that it takes longer to load programs and files, the computer crashes or reloads more often than usual, or the system appears sluggish, you could be facing a ransomware attack.

Network or Internet Connectivity Issues

Some malware may try to multiply and spread across the network or attempt to communicate with their control and command (C&C) servers via the internet. All of this can cause you to notice slow or broken networks and internet connection.

Steps to Take When You Suspect a Ransomware Attack

To reduce dwell time and prevent serious attack consequences, it's vital to have a solid response plan. Your team should know exactly what to do if they suspect an attack. At this point, every second counts.

Isolate the Infected System

Once you find an infected file, notice sluggishness, or discover anything suspicious, you have to isolate the system from the network so ransomware doesn't spread to connected devices. Your team should know exactly whom to contact to ensure timely isolation.

Disconnect from the Internet

To prevent ransomware from communicating with C&C servers to transfer data and receive instructions, you need to disable internet connectivity immediately. Your team members should receive appropriate training and understand the algorithm of such actions.

Avoid Paying the Ransom

While paying the ransom may seem the fastest way out, it rarely is. Paying malicious actors encourages new attacks in the future. It also doesn't guarantee that your data remains safe.

Meanwhile, getting the decryption key doesn't always mean you gain fast access to your files. For example, in the Colonial Pipeline case, hackers provided a decryption key that worked painstakingly slowly and didn't help the company avoid downtime.

Notify IT or Security Personnel

Your team must know exactly whom to notify about any suspicious activity. The faster the right people know about the attack, the faster they can initiate the incident response plan and take quick action to minimize negative consequences.  

Restore From Backups

If you've taken preventive measures and designed a disaster recovery plan that involves making backups, you can regain access to data without paying the ransom. After removing malware from the system, take advantage of the backup to start restoring critical information.

Best Practices to Stop Ransomware Attacks

In 2021, ransomware affected 66% of organizations worldwide. The chances of facing such an attack are increasing every year. By learning how to avoid ransomware attacks, you can keep your data safe and protect the company's reputation.

Keep Software Up to Date

Both off-the-shelf and custom software can have loopholes that make it easier for malicious actors to slide through. Updates provide patches for these loopholes. By keeping operating systems, anti-virus programs, web browsers, and other software updated, you are improving your organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Use Strong and Unique Passwords

By using strong and unique passwords, you are making it harder for malicious actors to guess or steal them. This reduces their chances of entering the system and wreaking havoc there undetected.

Contrary to the common misconception, you don't need to change passwords all the time. It's sufficient to create a strong password once and keep it safe from unauthorized access.  

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Human error is responsible for 90% of cyberattacks. Cyber criminals know this and often target individuals, attempting to trick them into divulging confidential information or providing passwords and other system access credentials. Avoiding these types of social engineering attacks could keep your organization’s chances of falling victim to ransomware disasters to a minimum.

By implementing several levels of authentication, you are creating an additional layer of security. So even if an employee lets a password slip, the malicious actor can't gain access to your entire system.

Educate Employees on Response Plan

By providing employee training, you are maximizing your ransomware prevention options. Training and response plan design offer valuable insights into ransomware trends, emerging threats, system vulnerability, and attack vectors that may impact GDPR compliance.

Once the attack begins, you may only have a few hours to stop it. When this happens, your team members should have a clear understanding of what their roles are.  

Regularly Backup Critical Data

The only way to keep your critical data fully intact during ransomware is by creating regular backups. This backup allows you to restore data quickly, avoid downtime, prevent reputational issues, and refuse to pay the ransom.

Avoid Ransomware Attacks with ZeroFox

Download the ZeroFox Threat Research Report for much more valuable information and predictions about the cyber security landscape when it comes to malware and ransomware attacks.

While it's possible to stop a ransomware attack before it causes significant damage, your organization should do everything in your power to avoid falling victim to these attacks in the first place. When you know how to avoid a ransomware attack and disrupt threat actors before they strike, you save money, protect digital assets, and maintain your company's reputation.

Luckily, ZeroFox is here to help. ZeroFox provides enterprises protection, intelligence and disruption to dismantle external threats to brands, people, assets and data across the external attack surface in one, comprehensive platform. To learn more, Request a Demo today to see how ZeroFox can help your organization detect, disrupt and dismantle external cyber threats.

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