With all the turmoil the world endured in 2020, most of us somewhat optimistically entered 2021 thinking, “Things have to be better this year, right?”

So far, there are a lot of things to feel hopeful about—but, unfortunately, ransomware is not one of them. Security experts are predicting an active year for ransomware attacks. And if the first few months of 2021 are any indication, the experts aren’t wrong. 

So far this year, there have been reports of ransomware attacks hitting hospitals, including the CHwapi hospital in Belgium; school districts, such as the Baltimore County school system; and businesses and manufacturers, such as automobile maker Kia and paper giant WestRock Co.

Three Big Data Protection Challenges Organizations Face

In 2020, the FBI reported a 300 percent increase in cybercrime, driven in part by uncertainty over the global pandemic. This surge in malicious activity drives home the importance of protecting sensitive data from theft, loss, and corruption.

But cyberattack is just one of several common threats to company data. Today’s data-obsessed business environments and complex IT infrastructures create significant security challenges. 

For example, businesses are managing historically high volumes of data, and that data has to be stored somewhere. Many organizations rely on multiple storage types and locations, which makes it difficult to protect the data and increases the attack surface.

Why a Piecemeal Approach to Ransomware Protection Isn’t Effective

IT security teams have a lot of moving parts to consider when they are developing a ransomware protection strategy. 

For example, ransomware itself is a moving target. Operators are constantly changing and updating their tactics and introducing new strains, which can slip past cybersecurity tools unrecognized.

Then there is the composition of the company’s networks, systems, and infrastructure. Many companies continue to use legacy systems that are woefully out of date, unpatched, and, often, incompatible with current cybersecurity solutions. Add to the mix a highly complex IT infrastructure, and ransomware has dozens of ways to infiltrate networks and databases. 

Finally, good old human error plays a huge role in successful ransomware attacks. It just takes one employee clicking a bad link to open the door to a world of hurt.

When it comes to preventing ransomware, there are too many factors at play to rely on a non-cohesive protection strategy. Cobbled together tools and solutions don’t provide adequate security; in fact, they often introduce new vulnerabilities.

The only way to ensure your data is safe is to implement a holistic ransomware protection strategy.

A Holistic Approach to Ransomware Protection Is Your Best Defense

When we talk about a holistic approach to ransomware protection, we are referring to a collection of processes, policies, and best practices that include cybersecurity, secure backup and disaster recovery, and actionable plans for making people an effective line of defense against ransomware.

Multilayered Cybersecurity

Today’s IT infrastructures are pretty convoluted. Many organizations are moving away from traditional in-house infrastructure and storage to cloud-based services. 

These days, it is not unusual for a single company to have data and applications spread across on-premises, public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud infrastructures. And your ransomware protection solution has to integrate with all of these environments to be effective. 

Additionally, the rising number of remote workers means fewer organizations can rely on a company firewall to protect their data and applications. Many are implementing strict identity management processes such as multi-factor authentication, privileged access management, and zero trust to create a virtual security perimeter. 

Immutable Backups

Yes, all backups are important in the fight against ransomware, but immutable backups are essential. Ransomware operators have recently started targeting backup files, so not only does your data get encrypted, but your backups are rendered useless, as well.  

Data protection as a service (DPaaS) is a solid solution for protecting backups from encryption and corruption. Stored in the cloud, separate from the company network, your backups can be accessed from anywhere by an authorized user, so data can be restored quickly and completely. 

DPaaS is also a crucial security tool if you are one of the millions of people who use Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft’s shared responsibility model essentially puts the onus of data protection on the user. If you aren’t backing up your Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive files to the cloud, a ransomware attack could be catastrophic.

Resilience and Disaster Recovery

Today’s users demand almost 100 percent availability. An unplanned disruption, such as a successful ransomware attack, is likely to send some of your customers straight to a competitor.

However, including resilience and disaster recovery in your holistic ransomware protection strategy ensures high availability and minimal service disruptions during and after a crisis.

Resilience depends on taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to ransomware protection. This includes implementing disaster recovery solutions that include real-time replication for the most up-to-date backups and point-in-time rollback capabilities so you can easily restore data from just before a ransomware attack, deletion, or corruption occurred.

Education

Many IT teams view employees as a liability. But armed with the right knowledge, employees can be a powerful first line of defense against ransomware. 

Conducting frequent security awareness training programs that are customized to focus on your company’s specific weaknesses is an excellent way to strengthen the people perimeter and reduce human errors that lead to malware infections.

It is also important to create and publish a crisis communication plan as part of the security education program. Keep employees informed about who is in charge of what and the status of the recovery effort during and after a security event or other disaster. This knowledge will help employees stay calm and productive throughout the crisis. 

Statistically, there is a pretty good chance your organization will be hit with a ransomware attack at some point. Having a holistic ransomware protection strategy already in place will keep your sensitive data secure and recoverable, enable you to get operations back up and running quickly, and help your employees stay focused on their work.

Download "A Ransomware Crisis Plan is Now a Business Imperative"