Ransomware has become a major threat to enterprise cybersecurity over the past few years. The damage caused by this breed of malware ranges from blocking users from accessing needed resources to exposing or destroying sensitive company data. No matter how your data is being held for ransom, the business suffers, making ransomware protection a high priority for enterprise IT teams. 

If your organization hasn’t been affected by ransomware, it may be just a matter of time until it is. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that by 2021, a business will fall victim to a ransomware attack every 11 seconds. In 2016, the attack rate was every 40 seconds, which indicates malicious actors are getting better at exploiting vulnerabilities to take control of company resources and limit productivity.

This increase in successful ransomware attacks has huge financial impacts as well. In 2019, worldwide ransomware damages were estimated at $11.5 billion. In 2021, that number is expected to reach $20 billion. The reality: Ransomware is big business.

Security experts have seen a rise in ransomware and other phishing attacks in the wake of COVID-19, so if you don’t have a ransomware protection plan in place, now is a good time to educate the entire organization on how ransomware spreads, what to do if it gets past security, and what ransomware protection strategies to implement now.

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Common Ways Systems Get Infected with Ransomware

Awareness is the first step toward preventing and mitigating damage from ransomware. Knowing the common ransomware entry points will help all members of your organization work as the first line of defense against a breach.

Ransomware is primarily acquired through user actions, such as clicking bad links in emails or downloading infected attachments. It also spreads through malicious links in fake ads or websites and social media applications that transfer malware within an app or to other connected devices.

Ransomware attack tactics are always evolving, making the technology harder to identify as malware. Attackers are even using drive-by downloading to penetrate networks and install ransomware without having to trick users into clicking links.

What to Do If Your System Is Infected with Ransomware

If the dreaded day comes and you get a notification that ransomware is holding your company’s data hostage, don’t panic. To help you get through the event, take these steps to keep damage to a minimum.

Disconnect all suspect devices from the network.

As soon as you suspect a machine is infected with ransomware, disconnect it from any and all network contacts. Ransomware spreads through the network, so taking infected machines offline will stop them from infecting others.

Locate patient zero.

It is critical to locate the ransomware’s entry point as quickly as possible after the malware is detected. Knowing whether the breach was because of human choices or a weakness in network security will make a difference in how IT approaches the next steps in recovery and remediation.

Identify the type of ransomware.

Different strains of ransomware have their own ways of spreading and encrypting data. Identifying what type of ransomware you are dealing with will speed up your recovery effort. 

Assess the damage.

Once you know what strain of ransomware you are dealing with, you should be able to determine how extensive the damage is or potentially will be. Some types only lock down your data while others encrypt the files, rendering them useless unless you pay the ransom. If you don’t intend to pay the ransom, recover your information using your backup solution. If you don't have a backup solution in place, consider those files gone.

Report the crime.

Notify the authorities after a breach so they can investigate and help stop additional attacks. If you work in a regulated industry, your company may be required by law to report ransomware attacks to stay within compliance.

Be sure to take a picture of the ransom note as evidence for the police report and cybersecurity insurance claim.

Implement your disaster recovery plan.

After the attack has been neutralized and the damage assessed, it is time to start the restoration and recovery process to minimize the impact on system users and company operations.

If you don’t have a comprehensive, up-to-date disaster recovery (DR) plan, consider this a wake-up call. Cybercrime is on the rise, and every enterprise needs a DR solution to protect their assets and lessen the financial impact of future attacks.

Top 4 Ways to Protect Your Enterprise from Ransomware

Although it is important to know what to do in the event of a ransomware attack, ideally, the breach never happens in the first place. 

These four strategies can protect your enterprise network and applications from ransomware and other cyberattacks, keeping your data secure and maintaining high availability for your users. 

1. Centralize your security technology.

The more complex your IT environment, the more vulnerable your organization is. The typical enterprise runs multiple systems and applications on a wide array of infrastructures—from on-site to virtual to cloud—each requiring different security and data protection strategies. Every vendor and solution deployed introduces additional weak spots and potential gaps in security coverage. 

A unified threat management strategy—including malware detection, deep learning neural networks, and anti-exploit technology—combined with secure backup and DR capabilities can close the security gaps for complete ransomware protection. This single strategy can provide a first and last line of defense. 

2. Back up your data and systems, and then secure the backups.

Your DR plan is only as good as the most recent working backup. Test your backups and DR plan regularly to ensure it will work if and when you need it. A good rule of thumb is that you should test a partial backup twice per year and deploy a full backup test annually. 

The 3-2-1 backup strategy offers a high level of protection against data loss, especially in the event of a fire or natural disaster:

  • Maintain three copies of your data.
  • Leverage two different types of media.
  • Store one copy off-site or in the cloud. 

It is important to remember that ransomware attacks are increasingly targeting backups, so be sure your backup system doesn’t allow direct access to backup files.

3. Keep your operating systems and software up to date.

Missed patches are one of the most common ways malicious actors access systems and applications. It is crucial to stay current on patching and updates to eliminate security holes.

Automating maintenance tasks such as patching and executing updates is the best way to ensure the tasks are actually completed and important security fixes don’t fall through the cracks.

4. Manage employee behavior.

Employees’ online behavior is the No. 1 way ransomware gets into an organization’s network. Creating an enterprise-wide cybersecurity education and training strategy is key to mitigating risk of infection.   

At a minimum, educate employees to practice safe clicking, recognize phishing and social engineering attempts, and report suspicious emails and activity to IT. Then, schedule periodic drills to test and monitor the efficacy of your education initiatives.

To take security a step further, deploy monitoring software to detect policy violations and enforce secure password protocol. You can also implement regular account access reviews to ensure the right people have access to the right resources and nothing more. This not only protects sensitive data and business-critical applications from internal threats, but also stops malicious actors from using over-permissioned accounts to inflict greater damage to the business systems.

Ransomware Protection Is Critical 

The year 2020 is shaping up to be one of widespread change and uncertainty for businesses, and cybercriminals are taking full advantage of the turmoil. Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly common, and enterprises must step up their security initiatives in response.

Implementing a comprehensive ransomware protection strategy that includes employee education and DR plans will add an extra layer of security to your systems and save your company the stress and expense of restoring lost data, revenue, and reputation.

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