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How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks

Now more than ever, preventing ransomware attacks is a top priority among organizations. With the number of attacks doubling since 2020, ransomware has become an increasingly prevalent threat to both the private and public sector.

But how concerned should you be about ransomware? Very—especially if you’re within the United States. According to a 2021 statistic, 54.9% of ransomware attacks targeted U.S. entities. Luckily, a little information goes a long way.

To ensure you never get caught off guard, let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about ransomware attacks.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware, a catch-all term for any software designed with the goal of inflicting harm to a computer, server, or network. Ransomware, in particular, works by taking its victim’s systems and/or data hostage. The hackers then demand a hefty payout to return ownership.

Ransomware attacks cause considerable damage while annually extorting billions of dollars in payout money. In 2020 alone, ransomers earned a combined $20 billion, an almost twofold increase since 2019. Meanwhile, the average ransom cost has nearly doubled, reaching an all-time high of $570,000 in the first half of 2021.

Ransom payments aside, an attack can cost your organization in other ways. As the infection quickly spreads across your network, you’ll no longer have access to databases, files, and applications, effectively bringing your entire operation to a standstill.

In the aftermath of an attack, the average system downtime is 19 days. That can translate to millions in lost revenue and recovery expenses.

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What Causes Ransomware Attacks?

Ransomware works by exploiting vulnerabilities in your operating system. These vulnerabilities act as blindspots, or loopholes, by which harmful code can enter.

Once the ransomware has infected your system, the hacker can decide when to execute the code; this can range from within a few days to a few months. As we’ll see later, this has big consequences for repeat attacks.

When executed, ransomware begins to encrypt files and applications. It’s interesting to note that hackers rarely use “zero-day exploits”. That is, exploits which either remain unknown to developers or which haven’t yet had time to be patched.

The truth is that most ransomware depends on vulnerabilities that have been well-known for months or even years.

Instead of discovering loopholes of their own, hackers let software developers lead the way. Often, new ransomware attacks are simply reverse engineered patches that revealed previous vulnerabilities.

Hackers will then target organizations or individuals who haven’t installed these updates within their computer systems.

preventing ransomware attacks

Common Types of Ransomware

Ransomware can be deployed in a variety of ways. The most basic is the classic – and very irritating – pop-up. Pop-ups usually alert you to a “potential threat” lurking in your system. Of course, the real threat is the pop-up itself. Never follow its instructions.

At the more sophisticated end, we have ransomware that not only completely locks you out of your system, but encrypts your files. The result is that you’ll have to pay for the decryption key.

Failure to do so – or actively tampering with the infection – will lead to the destruction of your digital property or personal information.

Should I Pay the Ransom?

Faced with encryption-based ransomware, the sad truth is that you’re probably out of luck. In these cases, law enforcement agencies like the FBI recommend that victims pay the ransom and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, paying a ransom is merely hedging your bet. Because integrity is a virtue not often associated with cybercriminals, there is no guarantee they’ll return ownership to you or that the decryption key even works.

Nowadays, ransom payments are almost always demanded in the form of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies – and Bitcoin, in particular – offer a decentralized, untraceable, and anonymous way to transfer funds.

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks

As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Let’s discuss the most effective ways to protect your servers from ransomware attacks, then briefly touch on cloud security.

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks on Your Server

1. Backup Your Data

Backing up your data on a regular basis is the most reliable way to protect it. For small and medium to large businesses, consider backing up data locally and on a secure, off-site server.

2. Practice Your Restore Strategy Often

Having a backup is not enough. You must also be sure that your files and systems can actually be restored. As part of your security best practices, you must continue to test and improve upon your restore strategy.

Recall that hackers choose when to execute their ransomware. Keep this in mind in the wake of an attack and only restore a backup that existed before infection. Otherwise, you’re doomed to repeat history.

ransomware attacks

3. Stay on Top of Patches and Updates

Never run old operating systems, especially not when they’re still connected to the internet. As previously mentioned, hackers rarely use zero-day exploits, preferring to rely on known weaknesses. Therefore, staying on top of the latest updates and patches is one of the best ways to prevent an attack.

Additionally, it’s wise to monitor the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) list. This is the best reference for comparing your system against an index of known vulnerabilities.

4. Take Advantage of Advanced Endpoint Protection Software

Make sure your organization is always running the most sophisticated endpoint protection software. This software is designed to be both intelligent and flexible, meaning it can learn to detect unknown threats in addition to known ones.

5. Use Web Filtering

Ransomware can make its way into your system through shady websites and emails. Setting up filters to block these risky pages lowers the probability that one of your employees might unexpectedly click a malicious link or download an infected file.

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How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks in the Cloud

In the post-COVID era, many businesses are migrating to the cloud. While we won’t dive into its pros and cons here, it’s important to note that the question of security remains open-ended.

Depending on your previous level of security, cloud computing can be either more safe or less safe than what you’re used to. But the bottom-line is this: your cloud is only as secure as the company running it. Talk to your cloud provider about their security measures and develop a recovery plan of your own.

Prevent Ransomware Attacks With Intellicomp

Whether you work for a school board, police department, manufacturing company, investment firm, or technology startup, your organization can fall victim to ransomware.

Now that you understand some methods to prevent ransomware, the next question is “how can I implement them?”

Cybersecurity firms specializing in preventing ransomware attacks are the most reliable and cost-effective way to avoid the damages associated with an attack.

At Intellicomp, our cybersecurity experts are always here to protect your critical infrastructure from threats and data breaches.

Contact us today to find out how we can help safeguard your organization.