An Ultimate Guide to Ransomware Attack: What Is It and How Does It Work?
Author: Paul Moronfola
Ransomware attacks are a common phenomenon experienced by businesses and individuals with computers and devices such as printers, smartphones, and POS terminals connected to the internet. With a record-breaking 495.1 million ransomware attacks in 2021, according to SonicWall Capture Labs and an exponential increase due to the growing popularity of cryptocurrency, hackers initiate ransomware attacks to hold victims to ransom by revoking their access to data on their devices.
Ransomware can target any business or individual attributed to any industry. As a result, all businesses and individuals need to know about them and how to develop an effective disaster recovery plan. This article explains ransomware, the different types of attacks, how they work, and how to form an effective disaster recovery plan.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is malware that gains access to a computer system connected to the internet and revokes access to the data present until the victim pays a ransom fee. Generally, the different processes of payments used by the perpetrators are unpredictable and untraceable. Also, the ransom comes with a deadline, and if you do not oblige (which we recommend), you can lose access to the encrypted data.
Types of Ransomware
All ransomware works by revoking the victim’s access to the files on the computer. However, there are two ways they go about that, which determines the types of ransomware.
The locker ransomware locks you out of your computer without targeting your files. Consequently, the destruction of the data is unlikely. Aside from locking you out, it blocks access to basic computer functions, only allowing you to interact with the ransom window to enact payment.
The crypto-ransomware encrypts the data it was designed to target without affecting the basic computer function. Aside from that, it displays a ransom page with demands and warnings like “Pay the ransom before the deadline, or we will delete your files.”
Encrypting the data only allows the victim to see the data. It does not grant access, further spreading panic among users. As a result, many people will pay ransoms to get their data back, even though that is not the recommended solution.
How Does Ransomware Work
So how does ransomware work? Whether crypto or locker ransomware, a ransomware attack can only begin after it gains access to the targeted device. After then can it can lock out the user or encrypt the file. Each ransomware has a unique mechanism; however, they share the same core three steps:
Step 1: Infection and Distribution Vectors
Infection and distribution vectors are the various ways ransomware can access an organization’s systems. There are several ways, but the most common ones you should watch out for include the following:
Phishing is a fraudulent practice in which a hacker or any individual/corporation poses as a reputable individual or business. In ransomware attacks, the hacker sends emails (called phishing emails) that contain the malware to the intended victim. If the recipients fall for such theatrics, the ransomware self-executes on their device.
Remote Desktop Connection
An attacker can also use the Remote Desktop Connection to remotely access a computer connected to the same network or over the internet. This can occur in many ways, such as stealing or guessing an employee’s login credentials and directly executing the malware on the device. Other means of infection include the EternalBlue exploit created by the NSA and used by ransomware such as WannaCry and Petya.
Step 2: Encryption
On gaining access to the organization system, the malware starts encrypting the files present using the encryption functionality built into the device operating system. Data encryption depends on ransomware but generally involves accessing the files, encrypting them, and replacing the originals with the encrypted versions while ensuring system stability.
Furthermore, some ransomware can delete the backup and shadow copies of files. Therefore, making a recovery more difficult.
Step 3: Ransom Demand
After encryption, ransomware demands a ransom. The method of demanding ransoms occurs in several ways. However, the common method involves the malware displaying a background with a note containing instructions on sending the ransom.
If paid, the victim gets an encryption key and a decryptor program to enter the key to reverse the decrypt of the file and restore file access.
These are the three core steps in all ransomware variants. However, some variants, such as Maze, include file scanning, registry information, and data theft.
How to Mitigate an Active Ransomware Attack
After detecting a ransomware attack, below are recommended steps to take to mitigate the ransomware threat:
Step 1: Isolate the infected device
The first step is identifying and disconnecting the infected devices from the network. Furthermore, you should lock shared drives to prevent the penetration and encryption of such shared files.
Step 2: identify the Infection
This involves checking the type and strain of ransomware attacks and if there are available decryptors. Also, check if you have a backup and whether you need to pay the ransom.
Step 3: Restore
If the decryptor is available, decrypt the encrypted data. However, if not, restore your data from the backup. Although not recommended, you might consider paying the ransom.
Step 4: Create a Disaster Plan
Run a session to understand the extent of the infection and how to prevent the attacks from recurring. This includes identifying vulnerabilities or lacking security practices that encouraged the attack. Afterward, evaluate the attacks looking for answers to the following questions. Finding answers to such questions makes you better prepared for the next attack.
- How was the execution of the attack successful?
- Was the success and possibility due to system vulnerabilities?
- Did the antivirus or email filtering module fail?
- How far did the attack spread?
- Is wiping and reinstalling infected machines possible?
- Can you restore the already-made backup?
Creating an Effective Disaster Recovery Plan
No business or individual is safe from ransomware attacks. Consequently, an important part of cybersecurity is developing an effective disaster recovery plan to cater for such attacks. With a good plan, you should be able to mitigate the damage and promote data recovery. Below are some tips on forming an effective disaster recovery:
Backup Your Data Regularly
One of the most important ways to beat ransomware attacks which you can incorporate into your disaster plan, is to invest in a reliable data backup. It is an effective recovery method that eliminates your losing critical files.
There are two major ways to backup files on any device; a local backup using local storage such as hard disks, memory cards, and drives and cloud backup services such as Google Drive, OneDrive, or virtual desktop solution. Each one has its advantages, and when utilized, you will still have a copy of your data stored safely elsewhere, even during a ransomware attack.
Prioritize Seamless Communication
The disaster recovery plan should indicate what every organization member must do in the event of an attack. As a result, you need to plan a clear communication strategy. The communication strategy should include the following:
- The understanding of who needs to be contacted in the event of an attack
- How to contact the individual
- Determining the severity of the attack
- What should the workers do
Test Your Plan Regularly
After creating a disaster plan, you should regularly test it to detect weak spots and make the necessary adjustments. Testing can occur once or twice a year, and it is important to reevaluate your plan based on the technological advancement your business can face.
How Can V2 Cloud Help You Mitigate Ransomware Attacks
Aside from backing up your system, using cloud computing can be an effective way to mitigate ransomware. Cloud computing platforms such as V2 Cloud provides businesses with a secure and fully managed cloud-hosted environment. With V2 Cloud, employees can work on the provided computer resources via the internet using their PCs or tablets with little fear of cyber-attacks.
The level of security reduces the chances of ransomware attacks. Furthermore, it is a cost-effective process that only requires you to pay for what you need so that you can focus more on your business. Are you looking for a way to reduce ransomware attacks? Try V2 Cloud and experience a highly secure cloud-hosted environment.
Ransomware can attack any business or individual revoking their access to targeted/infected files. As a result, businesses and individuals must develop an effective disaster recovery plan. This article discussed the basics of ransomware and how to form an effective disaster recovery plan.