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7 Simple Ways to Avoid Ransomware Attacks

By Sarah Jones | Posted on November 4, 2023 | Posted in Cybersecurity and Compliance,

Are you confident that your tech enterprise is completely safe from cyber threats? With the alarming increase in ransomware attacks, even the most powerful companies are susceptible to such dangers. These attacks can cause significant financial losses, damage the company's reputation, and bring business operations to a halt.

In March 2018, the City of Atlanta experienced a severe ransomware attack caused by cybercriminals who used brute-force techniques to exploit the city's networks. The attack disrupted critical municipal services, including online payments and law enforcement operations. The Atlanta Police Department was forced to resort to manual record-keeping. Despite being asked for a ransom payment of over $50,000 in Bitcoin, the city refused to pay, leading to extended recovery periods and total costs of approximately $17 million.

For CTOs and technology leaders, the attack in Atlanta highlights the need to increase the use of advanced technologies to strengthen cybersecurity defenses. In this article, we discuss seven strategies to help technology firms improve their defenses against persistent cyber threats.

Understanding Ransomware's Ominous Presence in Today's Digital Realm

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a victim's data, essentially holding it hostage until a ransom is paid. The WannaCry attack in 2017 is a notable example of the disruptive potential of ransomware. The worldwide cyberattack targeted computers running on Microsoft Windows OS, encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The attack affected hospitals, major companies, and government agencies across over 150 countries, causing losses estimated to be hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. Even large companies like Garmin are not immune to ransomware attacks, with them reportedly paying millions to retrieve its stolen data in 2020. While small to medium-sized businesses face ransomware threats daily, they often lack the resources or knowledge to recover swiftly, causing a profound impact on their operations.

Simple Strategies to Prevent Ransomware Threats

With ransomware threats becoming increasingly sophisticated, organizations must be proactive in adopting strategies that not only defend against these cyber onslaughts but also enable rapid recovery should an attack breach their systems. Below we discuss 7 strategies that stand as the cornerstones of effective ransomware defense.

1. Regular Backups and the 3-2-1 Strategy

Did you know 72.7% of organizations were affected by ransomware in 2023? With the sharp rise in ransomware attacks,  it's clear that businesses need to be prepared for any eventuality. A solid backup strategy is essential for minimal downtime, uninterrupted services, and safeguarding business-critical information.

Here are key steps to a Reliable Backup Strategy:

  • Assess Backup Needs: Classify data based on its importance to business functions. Prioritize which data needs frequent backups, like hourly, daily, or weekly, depending on its significance.
  • Choose Your Backup Storage: Backup storage can range from local disks, NAS, and network shares, to cloud solutions. Determine the ideal mix of on-site and off-site (including cloud) backups. Hybrid backup systems, which use both, are often preferred for their balance of fast recovery and thorough protection.
  • Understand Your Threat Landscape: Recognizing common threats, from ransomware to natural disasters, helps in formulating a more robust defense mechanism.
  • Automate and Schedule Backups: Based on the priority of the data, set backup schedules—whether continuous, hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly. 
  • Regular Backup Testing: Consistently test your backup strategy to ensure data can be effectively restored when needed. Rehearse different disaster scenarios to evaluate the strategy's effectiveness.
  • Dedicated Backup Administration: Form a competent team to oversee the backup processes, ensuring consistent application and updating of the backup strategy. Responsibilities include routine backups, system evaluations, strategy updates, employee education on backup policies, and strategy testing.
  • Budgeting for Backups: Establish a dedicated budget for your backup strategy, balancing current needs with potential future requirements.
  • Select the Right Backup Vendor: Based on your organizational needs and budget, choose a reliable vendor that aligns with your backup and recovery requirements.

Besides, the 3-2-1 backup strategy has emerged as a standard in this context. The principle is straightforward: keep three copies of your data, and store two backup copies on different devices or mediums, with one of them located offsite. This strategy ensures that even if ransomware encrypts or corrupts one version of the data, alternative copies remain accessible and intact.

Regular backups, when combined with data redundancy and off-site storage, can effectively neutralize the primary leverage cybercriminals wield—the threat of data loss. In essence, a robust backup strategy turns the tables, rendering ransomware attacks impotent.

2. Frequent System Updates

While the importance of updated systems might sound elementary to the seasoned IT professional, it's staggering how many organizations fall prey to ransomware due to outdated systems and software. Keeping systems up-to-date is a fundamental security protocol.

Recall the notorious WannaCry ransomware attack. A key reason for its widespread impact was its targeting of systems running outdated versions of Microsoft Windows. A patch that could have prevented the malware's spread had been released just a couple of months before the attack. Still, many organizations hadn't updated, leaving them vulnerable. 

The underlying message here is clear. Outdated systems are a gaping vulnerability, an open invitation to cybercriminals. Regular system updates, complemented by security patches, seal these vulnerabilities, ensuring that malware, including ransomware, finds no easy entry points. In the ever-evolving chess game with cyber adversaries, staying updated is an essential move to stay several steps ahead.

Given the gravity of the threat landscape, organizations, especially those in the tech arena, need to recognize and act on these strategies as non-negotiable essentials. The investments in regular backups and system updates will ensure business continuity.

3. Antivirus and Firewalls

Antivirus software has come a long way from just detecting computer viruses. It now uses advanced methods such as behavior observation, machine learning, and receiving updates on threats to detect and prevent both known and new threats. The strength of these tools lies in their ability to adapt and learn, making them always prepared rather than being reactive. As ransomware and other online threats continue to become more sophisticated, antivirus tools keep updating their information and ways of detecting threats.

Firewalls have also evolved to become next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) that incorporate intrusion prevention systems, deep packet inspection, and sandboxing techniques. They go beyond their traditional role of filtering incoming and outgoing traffic based on pre-defined rules. Their primary goal is still to differentiate between legitimate traffic and potential threats. In the case of ransomware, a well-configured firewall can intercept and sever communication channels between the malware and its command and control servers, effectively disabling its ability to spread or encrypt.

4. Email Protocols and Endpoint Security

Email is a crucial communication tool for businesses, but it's also a popular target for cybercriminals. Due to the frequency of email usage, it has become a vulnerable point of attack. Cyber attackers frequently employ tactics such as fake emails and malicious attachments to propagate ransomware. To safeguard against these threats, security protocols such as smart filtering have been developed to identify and mitigate them.

Smart Filtering

Email security tools have become highly efficient in identifying potentially harmful patterns in messages. Through the use of advanced technologies like machine learning, these tools can detect and isolate suspicious emails before they even reach the user's inbox. The implementation of methods such as SPF, DKIM, and DMARC is also critical in mitigating the risk of phishing attacks. These methods verify the authenticity of the email's sender, ensuring that the recipient is less likely to fall prey to malicious schemes.

Regular Updates

Keeping security protocols and databases up-to-date is crucial to identifying and defending against the latest cyber threats. With the rise of remote work, employees' devices can become entry points for cyber attackers. As more devices connect to a network, there are more opportunities for ransomware to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access.

Robust Device Protection

  • Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPP): These tools offer a suite of security solutions to ensure that every endpoint (like laptops, smartphones, and tablets) is secure.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) Systems: These systems go beyond just protection. They continuously monitor the devices for any suspicious behavior, signaling possible breaches.
  • Traffic Analysis: Modern device protection tools examine the data traffic to and from the devices, blocking any malicious data packets and ensuring that only safe and necessary data is exchanged.
  • Access Controls: With the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) cultures, it's critical to have strict rules in place about which device can access what data. Layered access controls make sure that devices have only the required access, minimizing potential risks.

5. User Access Management and the ‘Least Privilege Model’

In an organization's digital infrastructure, every user represents a node. And every node, while crucial for operational fluidity, can also be a potential vulnerability. This is where User Access Management and the 'Least Privilege' model become indispensable.

The 'Least Privilege' model operates on a simple, yet powerful principle: grant users only the access they need to perform their job functions, nothing more. This minimizes potential attack surfaces. If a user's account is compromised, the malicious actor has limited access, thereby reducing the potential damage they can inflict.

Closely tied to this is the zero-trust model, a paradigm shift in security thinking. The traditional approach—trust but verify—is flipped on its head to become verify and never trust. In a zero-trust framework, every access request, internal or external, is treated as a potential threat. Identity verification becomes paramount, with the system constantly validating the user's credentials.

One of the most potent tools in this validation process is multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA necessitates multiple forms of verification—something the user knows (password), something the user has (a smart card or mobile device), or something the user is (biometric verification like fingerprints or retinal scans). This layered approach means that even if a cybercriminal gains one form of access, like a password, they're still barred entry due to the lack of other verification layers.

For CTOs and tech leaders, implementing rigorous user access controls isn't just a security measure; it's a foundational strategy to ensure that while users can navigate their digital workspaces fluidly, malicious entities find no easy doors to pry open.

6. Regular Security Testing and Evaluations

To stay ahead, your cyber defense strategies must be as dynamic as the threats they're designed to counter. Regular testing and evaluations are crucial to ensure you're not just reacting to threats but anticipating them.

Let’s take a look at some of the modern testing and evaluation methods:

  • Penetration Testing: This simulates a cyberattack on your systems to find vulnerabilities before real attackers do. It's a proactive approach to ensure your defenses hold up against actual threats.
  • Sandbox Testing: Before deploying new software or applications to your main network, test them in an isolated environment. This lets you identify and address any security issues without risking your primary infrastructure.
  • Red Teaming: This is an advanced form of penetration testing. A red team, or a group of ethical hackers, tries to mimic real-world attacks to test the organization's defense capabilities. It provides a holistic view of potential vulnerabilities.
  • Threat Hunting: Instead of waiting for alerts, security teams actively search for signs of potential threats. This proactive approach can identify and neutralize threats before they escalate.
  • Automated Security Scanning: Tools automatically scan and assess your networks, applications, and systems for vulnerabilities. They provide real-time feedback, helping you patch up any weak points immediately.

7. Employee Training 

Your team is your first line of defense against cyber threats. Investing in their knowledge and awareness can drastically reduce the risk of a ransomware attack. Here's how to effectively train your team:

  • Awareness Sessions: Regularly conduct sessions highlighting the latest threats and real-world incidents. The more informed your team is, the more vigilant they'll be.
  • Phishing Simulations: Test the team's readiness with fake phishing emails to see who falls for them. This hands-on approach can reveal vulnerabilities in real time.
  • Safe Browsing Habits: Emphasize the importance of avoiding unknown websites, refraining from downloading unknown attachments, and being skeptical of unsolicited communications.
  • Password Management: Educate about the significance of strong, unique passwords and the benefits of password managers. Also, stress the value of regularly updating passwords.
  • Incident Reporting: Cultivate a culture where team members promptly report any suspicious activity or potential breaches, ensuring rapid response and mitigation.

Ensure A Ransomware-Resistant Enterprise Future

Ransomware, in particular, has become a significant threat to businesses, with attackers holding them hostage. However, instead of giving in, companies need to strengthen their defense mechanisms and take proactive measures to protect themselves.

In the cloud era, ensuring a safe, reliable environment that's accessible only to trusted entities is paramount. Redapt's Security and compliance solutions promise this and more. They offer expertise to help businesses meet various compliance requirements like HIPAA, SOX, PCI DSS, and FedRamp. 

Our goal is to democratize data and make it accessible to trusted parties while ensuring governance and security through automation. Redapt offers a flexible approach to safeguard modern applications that are constantly evolving. Our main objective is to minimize the risks associated with application failures, potential data losses, and regulatory penalties, making sure your enterprise is protected against cyber threats.

Are you prepared to deal with ransomware attacks? Don't let uncertainty hold back your organization's potential. Book a call with Redapt's experts to plan a more innovative and secure future.