Not so long ago, cybersecurity experts would say that experiencing a ransomware attack was more a question of “if” than “when.” Now, it’s no longer about “when,” but “how often” and “what’s the damage?”
Attacks are happening every day. In August 2023 alone, there were more than 70 widely publicized cases. It might sound small, but this number only counts larger organizations, and even one cyber attack is enough to topple a small economy.
It’s not just about losing money either: An attack can harm an organization’s reputation, disrupt its work, and drive away customers and clients. Organizations must be constantly alert and work hard to protect themselves against this ever-changing threat.
In this blog, we discuss the threat landscape and how to build a strong defense against attacks.
The evolving ransomware threat
Ransomware is not a new threat, but it’s one that’s been changing rapidly.
At its core, ransomware is malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Over the years, the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by cyber criminals have evolved, making ransomware more sophisticated and harder to combat.
These attacks have shifted from targeting individuals for small amounts to larger entities like hospitals and cities for bigger ransoms. Attack methods have evolved from simple email attachments to sophisticated phishing campaigns and exploiting software vulnerabilities.
And the threat is growing. In 2023 alone, more than 72% of organizations worldwide were affected by ransomware attacks. During the first six months, the number of attacks surpassed those in the same period of 2022.
What’s even more concerning is the 1,815 attacks in the first half of 2023 that weren’t publicly reported. This shows that the problem is getting more serious with each passing day.
Tips for strengthening your ransomware defenses
Ransomware attacks can cripple an organization, but with the right defenses, you can prevent this from happening. Regardless of your organization’s level of risk, apply these tips to stay protected:
Carry out regular risk assessments
A risk assessment is a systematic process of evaluating cybersecurity risks in a project or activity. Risk assessments can bolster your defenses by:
- Identifying weak points: Every organization, big or small, has some vulnerabilities. Risk assessments help find these weak points before the bad guys do.
- Prioritizing fixes: Not all vulnerabilities are equally dangerous. Some might be like a creaky floorboard: annoying, but not harmful. Others might be like a broken alarm system: very risky. Risk assessments help organizations decide which problems to fix first.
- Helping you stay updated: The world of technology changes fast. New threats emerge, and old defenses might not work anymore. Regular risk assessments ensure that an organization’s protections are up to date.
Implement better workflow management
Workflow management involves organizing and optimizing the tasks in a process. Implementing effective workflow management helps ensure that tasks are standardized, roles are clearly defined, and processes are completed efficiently.
For example, document management is a crucial part of workflow management that often gets overlooked when creating a comprehensive ransomware resilience strategy. Mismanaged or unorganized files can turn into soft targets for ransomware attackers.
To make your system more resistant, ensure you have proper controls that govern how the documents are handled, such as an organized and secure file management process.
This could be as simple as implementing access controls or using reliable and secure PDF merging software to consolidate important documents into fewer files, making them easier to monitor and secure. This helps streamline your filing system, which not only enhances your organization’s operational efficiency but also adds a layer of defense against ransomware attacks.
Plus, with every secure solution and standardized process you include, you’re removing attack vectors from the equation.
Cyber criminals are always hunting for weak spots, often found in old software. So, if you’re using outdated operating systems or apps, you’re leaving the door wide open. Slam it shut by paying attention to:
- Software updates: These aren’t just about new features. They fix security gaps. Turn on automatic updates for all your software, even if it’s just for managing documentation or basic communication.
- Operating system updates: Your operating system, whether Windows, macOS, or Linux, is the heart of your device. We know it sounds obvious, but a shocking number of security flaws stem from outdated operating system versions. If you’re running legacy software, ensure you’re getting the right security patches.
- Firmware updates: Think of firmware as the brain of devices like your router or printer. If it’s not updated or flashed regularly, even the best and most secure server infrastructure in the world won’t save you.
Back up regularly
Backing up your data consistently is a crucial defense against threats like ransomware and unexpected data loss incidents. Even if you get attacked, it won’t be as damaging if you have been backing your data up.
Diversify your backup storage by using local methods such as external drives, Cloud services for off-site protection, and physical off-site storage in secure locations to guard against local disasters. Each method offers unique benefits and vulnerabilities, from fast restoration times to protection against varying threats. But only with all three can you enjoy a satisfactory level of security.
Implement cutting-edge security measures for proactive protection
Even with many security tools out there, a lot of organizations are still at risk from threats like phishing, malware, ransomware, and more. Old security systems just can’t keep up with the clever tricks criminal hackers use now.
To truly combat the threats, you must embrace newer technologies. AI and machine learning are leading the charge, offering the ability to analyze patterns, learn from them, and spot sophisticated attacks before they can do any damage.
Timely patch management in software libraries
A crucial but often overlooked component of ransomware resilience is the timely patching of third-party libraries and dependencies. OpenSSL, a widely used toolkit for SSL and TLS protocols, serves as a pertinent example of how vulnerabilities can create severe security risks. These risks include but are not limited to weak encryption algorithms, susceptibility to man-in-the-middle attacks, or even the exposure of private keys.
An attacker exploiting these vulnerabilities could compromise encrypted communications or inject malicious code, paving the way for a multi-stage ransomware attack that encrypts crucial data or locks out system administrators. Given OpenSSL’s prevalent use in secure data transmission across platforms, a single unpatched vulnerability can ripple through multiple organizational systems.
OpenSSL is far from the only culprit here. Even SMB (Server Message Block) is prone to ransomware attacks with vulnerabilities like EternalBlue, as is Apache Struts and its known susceptibility to remote code execution.
So, whichever libraries you’re using, make sure they don’t require more security upkeep than the rest of your stack.
How to plan for unexpected incidents
When it comes to ransomware, preparation is everything. An incident response plan is all about being ready to act fast and effectively if an attack happens.
A good plan outlines:
- Communication –who to inform immediately when an attack is detected, both inside and outside the organization
- Containment –steps to stop the ransomware from spreading further in the system
- Eradication and recovery – how to remove the ransomware and get systems back to normal, often using secure backups
- Post-incident analysis – after handling the attack, understand how it happened and how to prepare for similar attacks
- External help – sometimes, it’s beneficial to get outside expertise involved, especially when dealing with legal issues or needing specialized knowledge
Being proactive and informed is essential for safeguarding your systems and data. As challenges grow, your approaches and tools must adapt. Taking consistent, informed actions and staying abreast of the latest best practices will help you shield your assets and contribute to a more secure digital environment.