March 21, 2022 | Reading time 7 minutes

How to Recover and Prevent Ransomware Attacks

There is a word that no business leader, IT admin, end-user, or stakeholder wants to hear – ransomware. It is especially true if they fall victim to a high-profile ransomware attack. Last year, 2021, was a landmark year for ransomware attacks that affected many industries and even critical infrastructure services, disrupting the lives of millions. There are two crucial aspects of a ransomware attack businesses need to plan for to ensure continuity of operations. Let’s see how to recover and prevent ransomware attacks and see what strategies and tools are needed.

Ransomware Prevention and Recovery is Urgent

Ransomware attacks have evolved since the early days. It is no longer a simple program that attacks home computer users and encrypts their files, asking for a few hundred dollars in ransom payment. Instead, it has become the most urgent, critical threat to organizations worldwide, including large enterprise organizations. So how has ransomware evolved into such a critical threat?

You could say over the past decade, or so, hackers have been honing their craft by developing more capable and insidious ransomware variants that more effectively and efficiently extort their victims. So while ransomware started as a lesser-known threat to businesses, it has quickly become a significant worry for everyone. 

Ransomware has become more effective at seeking out business-critical files and even backups of critical data, looking for known file types. Then, it silently crawls through enterprise networks encrypting everything in its path. Usually, it is too late when the ransomware infection is discovered. 

Historically, ransomware operators encrypted business-critical data and then demanded a ransom payment for companies to recover the data locked by malicious encryption. The number one recourse from a ransomware attack was backups. Backups contain a full copy of production data that allows recovery to a point before the attack occurred. However, attackers are using a sinister new strategy to help ensure successful ransom payment. What is it?

Double extortion and data leak

While backups are still a critical component to ransomware recovery, attackers have evolved their strategies using what is known as “double extortion” that can effectively elude the protection provided by backups. What is double extortion? Cybercriminals are now infiltrating the victim’s network before launching the ransomware attack and exfiltrating data. It means they are copying sensitive, private, and other internal data from victims’ networks before encrypting the data on-premises. 

Essentially, they have a good copy of the victim’s data they can now use to leak sensitive information to the dark web. It serves two purposes:

  • Double payment – One payment serves to decrypt the on-premises data encrypted by ransomware, and the other payment prevents the ransomware group from intentionally leaking sensitive data to the dark web
  • More leverage – Even if a business has a good backup of their data that allows recovery, the backups offer no protection against the intentional data leak threat

As detailed in the Microsoft Digital Defense Report 2021, double extortion is a growing trend. A significant ransomware variant adopting the double extortion business model is Conti ransomware. The threat actors behind Conti maintain a news site of sorts, serving as a publishing site for the victim’s data and private information. If the ransom is not paid, the data is either posted publicly or sold on the black market based on the value of the information contained.

The new double extortion ransomware business model emphasizes the need for organizations to do all they can to prevent an attack. Importantly, companies need to have the tools to quickly discover an attack in real-time and stop it as soon as possible. Let’s take a closer look at strategies and solutions needed to prevent ransomware attacks.

Preventing ransomware attacks

It is naïve to think that organizations can prevent 100% of all ransomware attacks targeting their organization. However, businesses can take advantage of best practice strategies and technologies to help bolster the cybersecurity posture of their environments to prevent as many attacks as possible. 

It is also vital for businesses to protect on-premises environments and their cloud environments. Unfortunately, ransomware groups are increasingly going after cloud accounts along with on-premises data. The reason for this large uptick in attacks on cloud environments is cybercriminals know that many businesses are migrating much of their business-critical data and services to the cloud.

Cloud migrations are showing no signs of slowing down. As ransomware attacks continue to increase and grow more sophisticated and targeted, organizations must implement protective measures in cloud environments, including cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

What strategies and tools are needed to prevent ransomware attacks in 2022 and beyond? Let’s look at the following:

  • Securing remote technologies
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Cloud ransomware protection

Securing remote technologies

As organizations have transitioned to a mainly hybrid workforce, businesses are using more remote technologies than ever before to empower employees with the tools needed to carry out business-critical productivity tasks. Attackers capitalize on unprotected remote access technologies exposed to the Internet. Legacy Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers are often placed on the edge without proper security architecture. VPN connections may use weak or compromised passwords and protocols. 

Compromising RDP and VPN deployments is a favorite jump point for attackers compromising internal networks, performing surveillance, and launching a ransomware attack. Therefore, it is critical for businesses to architect remote access technologies for secure connectivity without improperly exposing them to the Internet. 

Proper security patching of these systems helps remediate vulnerabilities. In addition, following implementation best practices for remote connectivity technologies helps ensure these are deployed and secured correctly. Using multi-factor authentication to secure logins needs to be mandatory.

Multi-factor authentication

As already mentioned, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a crucial security requirement in 2022 and beyond. Password authentication is no longer effective at keeping out attackers. Instead, two-factor authentication combines something you know (your password) with something you possess (your one-time token sent or generated on a smartphone). 

Even if an attacker compromises an employee’s password, with multi-factor authentication enabled, they still do not have all the factors needed to validate the identity for a successful login session. Therefore, businesses should implement MFA on all forward-facing remote access technologies used to access business-critical and sensitive resources.

Cloud ransomware protection

Cloud ransomware can and does happen. It can affect business-critical cloud storage, email systems, file repositories, collaboration solutions, and many other cloud services. With the increasing number of ransomware attacks worldwide, cloud environments will not be immune. As a result, organizations need to plan on the reality of a ransomware attack targeting critical cloud systems and cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environments.

While many hyper-scale cloud service providers provide file versioning and a few other light backup technologies, there is no substitute for a fully-featured enterprise backup solution. Versioned enterprise backups provide a standalone copy of your data and allow businesses to effectively access and recover a copy of critical data, regardless of accessibility to the production cloud environment.

As mentioned earlier, while backups are critical to recovering from an attack, businesses need to implement ransomware protection for cloud environments to help minimize the data attackers can leak and the amount of data that may need recovering.

Organizations with ransomware protection for critical cloud data drastically minimize the leverage attackers gain with double extortion threats. It also helps businesses not be subjected to API throttling limitations of cloud SaaS environments. API throttling is enforced to help prevent the noisy neighbor effect of a tenant using a large number of API resources, potentially affecting other tenants in the environment.

It can affect how quickly data can be restored to cloud SaaS environments. With effective ransomware protection in place, minimizing and stopping an attack, organizations prevent a situation where massive amounts of data need to be restored in the first place. However, when ransomware is allowed to encrypt large amounts of cloud data, it increases the likelihood of hitting the API limits.

Organizations can only implement ransomware protection as described with effective third-party solutions that implement the needed next-generation security controls to stop an attack as it unfolds.

Recovering from ransomware attacks

Unfortunately, most businesses will experience a ransomware attack at some point if they have not experienced one already. So what are the critical elements of successfully recovering from a ransomware attack? Note the following:

  • Containing the scope of the attack quickly
  • Restoring backups
  • Remediating systems

Containing the scope of the attack quickly

One of the elements of successful ransomware recovery is often containing the scope of the attack quickly. The difference between only a small amount of data being encrypted by ransomware and a massive data encryption event may only be a few minutes. As soon as evidence of a ransomware attack is discovered, shutting down and isolating critical network segments and server resources can “save the day.” Often, it is the quick thinking of IT personnel to isolate and shut down critical systems that can contain the damage path of a ransomware attack.

Using technologies in the cloud that can recognize and contain/block a ransomware attack can mean the difference in only a small amount of data loss compared to a massive data loss event, leading to days of downtime. Not only does this help to minimize recovery time, but it can also help to minimize data that attackers can exfiltrate.

Restoring backups

There are generally two ways to get your data back after falling victim to a ransomware attack – paying the ransom or restoring backups. Recovering from backups allows businesses to be in control of getting their data back instead of dealing with cybercriminals. Backups need to contain critical data in multi-versioned snapshots and be accessible.

If businesses can successfully contain the scope of the attack quickly, as mentioned in the last section, it minimizes the amount of data that needs to be recovered from backup. It provides benefits across the board, including the Restore Time Objective (RTO). 

Remediating systems

Critical systems need to be remediated after a business falls victim to a ransomware attack. Obviously, the attackers gained entry through a specific attack vector. Once this is discovered, it needs to be remediated as soon as possible. Additionally, businesses must perform continual cybersecurity posture management, both on-premises and in the cloud, to ensure new cybersecurity vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, or other threats have crept into the environment. 

Prevent ransomware attacks and minimize data loss with SpinOne

With cloud ransomware attacks, businesses need modern tooling that provides visibility to cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the cloud. They also need a way to use modern technologies to stop a ransomware attack before it can compromise large amounts of critical data. 

SpinOne is a modern AI-driven cloud-native solution providing effective cybersecurity posture management and advanced ransomware protection to cloud SaaS solutions, including Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. SpinOne not only helps to prevent a ransomware attack altogether, but it also stops an attack quickly and decisively using AI-driven technology providing automated responses.

Protect your SaaS Environment from a Ransomware Attack

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Using enterprise backups and next-generation AI, SpinOne leverages known good backups along with advanced cybersecurity automation. Note the advanced AI-driven automation provided by SpinOne includes:

  • Ransomware monitoring – SpinOne monitors your cloud SaaS environment 24/7/365 for any signs of a ransomware attack
  • Real-time ransomware blocking – SpinOne blocks the ransomware network source once an attack is detected
  • Automated scanning of file damage – Files are scanned and discovered that have been affected by the ransomware attack
  • Automated recovery (configurable) – It automatically restores affected files to the latest backed up version
  • Immediate notifications – IT admins are immediately notified of ransomware events in real-time

With SpinOne ransomware protection and cloud-to-cloud backups, organizations can adequately defend their critical cloud data from attack and effectively meet cybersecurity posture management needs. Learn more about SpinOne ransomware protection here: Cloud Ransomware Protection for SaaS Data-

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