Back in the day, keeping your organization safe and secure was mostly about putting important files under lock and key. A security breach meant an actual physical intruder or theft.
Now, corporate security is far more complex. There are more types of threats to consider — ranging from phishing to digital eavesdropping to botnet attacks. Not only are there significantly more bad actors on the scene today, but they can infiltrate your company’s confidential documents and data much faster, from anywhere in the world. And they could have hundreds or even thousands of potential entry points through your team’s various vulnerable app accounts and devices.
To help your organization stay secure, it’s important to understand the types of threats you’re up against. One of the primary cyberattacks against businesses today is ransomware. Here we’ll walk through what ransomware is, where it comes from, the risks for your organization, and tips and resources you can implement to help reduce and prevent ransomware attacks.
Ransomware is a type of malware designed to hold a victim’s data hostage until an untraceable ransom is paid. This can be accomplished by locking users out of their devices or by identifying data storage drives on the infected system and encrypting files within each drive. In other words, your documents and data become completely unreadable unless you have the correct cryptographic key.
The scariest part is that it doesn’t stop there.
Most ransomware attacks go undetected until after the damage is done. If you don’t have the right preventive measures in place, the initial ransomware infection can quickly hitch a ride to every shared device or file that was accessible from the original computer.
Of course, even when the victim pays up, there’s no guarantee the attacker will actually decrypt the data. In fact, many go on to extort more payments from the victim using threats to expose sensitive data or sell it on the dark web.
Ransomware attacks take countless forms and exploit a constantly evolving mix of hardware, software, and human vulnerabilities. Some of the more infamous ransomware varieties you may have heard of include locky, cryptolocker, or petya, and they all make infected data useless or inaccessible.
Ransomware can arrive when an unsuspecting member of your team opens a phishing email or downloads a file from a malicious source. But who’s behind it?
The truth is ransomware attacks can come from a single bad actor in search of bragging rights — the way a vandal might choose a car at random to steal or slash a tire. Often, however, these attacks are more organized, sinister, and deliberately targeted. After all, if the attacker is going to go to all the trouble of initiating an attack, they want to ensure their target can actually pay up.
You don’t have to be a mega-corporation with incredibly deep pockets to be a target for ransomware.
No one is immune to ransomware attacks. The 2022 Unit 42 Ransomware Threat Report found that organizations in almost every country and industry were targeted in 2021.
North and South American regions were the most impacted with 60% of the breach victims found in this area, while 31% were attributed to Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) regions, and 9% to the Asia Pacific region. There’s no question that legal teams can be a particularly tempting target — not just because of the money, but because of the sensitive client and matter information they possess. The analysis found the most targeted sectors were Professional and Legal Services, followed by Construction.
In 2020, the hacking group MAZE became the first ransomware group to be observed exfiltrating data from its victims and using the threat of publication as additional leverage to extort payment. This method laid the path for others and by the end of the year, several groups had adopted the same tactic to help speed up response times and payments from victims.
In light of these attacks, it’s clear that if you haven’t experienced a ransomware attack yet, the odds are that your turn is coming, and the risk goes up every year. The Joint Cybersecurity Advisory reported 2021 trends had an increased globalized threat of ransomware, and they observed incidents involving ransomware against 14 of 16 of the US critical infrastructure sectors.
Put simply, a proactive approach to security breaches is a good strategy – think in terms of when, not if. The combined impact of these kinds of cybercrimes is mind-blowing, with company losses running into the billions. The disruptions hit just about every sector you can think of, sometimes disabling vital systems that sustain legal teams, financial institutions, hospitals, airlines, and even critical infrastructure networks.
There are many ways you can help prevent — and mitigate the effects of — ransomware attacks against your company. The more precautions you can implement, the better off you’ll be. Here are eight steps you can take.
Make sure you have written data protection and disaster recovery plans in place. It’s also important to share them widely in your organization so that everyone understands their role in protecting your data. Ensure buy-in from top leadership because this is a business decision, not just an IT decision. Regular phishing tests are very effective tools to raise awareness and vigilance.
Ransomware attacks often start with phishing, where the attacker will gain access to the network by stealing a legitimate user’s password. Reduce the risk of phishing by using both multifactor authentication (MFA) and password management tools.
MFA requires at least two forms of verification for a user to gain entry to the system — for example, a correct password and a push notification or call to the user’s mobile phone. Password management tools can enforce sufficiently complex passwords, regular password updates, and other security best practices that will limit opportunities for bad actors to access the system.
Ransomware protection isn’t a one-and-done activity. Threats evolve rapidly to get ahead of new security measures, and new vulnerabilities will open up with shifting user habits and as you adopt new hardware and software. It’s important to keep your apps updated so you’re protected against the latest threats and vulnerabilities.
Follow a rigorous IT process for installing antivirus software, email filtering features, and antivirus applications and be sure to keep them up to date. Even the most powerful tools are no good if your people don’t adopt them — so train, train, train. And implement measures that are “invisible” and seamless for users.
There are business continuity software platforms that can help you recover from a ransomware attack by restoring your systems to the last known safe state before the attack took place. The best ones allow flexible physical and virtual restoration.
If your backup files are accessible from your daily operating platform, chances increase that they can become infected when your endpoints “phone home” to upload new versions. Separate storage appliances are widely available at a variety of price points.
The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) all publish regular reports and updates on new trends and vulnerabilities to watch out for. You can subscribe to authoritative newsletters and adjust your protection plans regularly. Ensure the teams behind your most important apps and platforms are vigilant about recognizing and responding to new security threats. It takes reliable partners to help keep your data safe and secure.
Your team members might not be fooled by a classic scam email, but phishing and other cyber attacks are growing far more sophisticated. Provide ongoing security awareness training that covers common phishing techniques so your team can stay savvy to recognize potential threats and know what to do when they encounter one.
The most important thing you can do for your organization is to stay vigilant and stick relentlessly to common-sense best practices. Taking preventive measures and increasing awareness will ensure you’re prepared for today’s never-ending data protection battle.
The NetDocuments platform is designed to help you gain control of your documents, emails, and discussions. While your data is within our platform, our award-winning security provides a flexible and robust framework that can help protect you from ransomware attacks. Want to learn more? Schedule a demo today!
Get more tips on how to prevent a data breach by watching this free, on-demand webinar.
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