Over the past two years, ransomware attacks have increased in frequency and severity. In 2019 alone, the attacks have crippled manufacturing businesses, brought hospitals to a halt, and even put lives at risk.
It's no wonder that many organizations are putting ransomware prevention and response planning at the top of their priorities list for 2020. And those that aren't probably should consider what more they can do to better prepare their organizations against these types of attacks.
The time to put measures in place is not after an attack has already taken place. I've worked with many organizations scrambling in the aftermath of a breach, but this can be avoided if you proactively consider tools to detect anomalous behavior, automatically remediate, and segment threats from moving across the network to limit an attack's reach.
Here are five things organizations should consider as part of their security resolutions in 2020:
1. Basic Cybersecurity Hygiene: Improving basic cybersecurity hygiene is the No. 1 defense against any type of attack, including ransomware. This is the cybersecurity version of many people's New Year's resolution to "get healthy." Cybersecurity hygiene can mean a lot of different things, but a good place for companies to start is by making sure they have strong vulnerability management practices in place and that their devices have the latest security patches. They can also make sure they are taking basic security precautions that are often also important for regulatory compliance, like running up-to-date antivirus software or restricting access to systems that can't be made compliant. Ultimately, however, for most organizations, starting with CIS Control 1, Inventory and Control of Hardware Assets, will establish a good foundation upon which to build.
2. Penetration Testing: Companies that already have much of the basic hygiene in place can take the additional step of engaging pen testers to further ensure that anything Internet-facing in their organization is protected. By finding what means or mechanisms attackers could hack or brute-force an attack to gain access to applications or internal systems by bypassing other protections such as firewalls, security leaders can fix those areas before bad actors find them.
3. Board Discussions: Cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a board of directors-level issue. That's because an attack can have a significant impact on a company's revenue, brand, reputation, and ongoing operations. However, it's worth having a specific board-level conversation about ransomware to ensure they understand the specific risks it could pose to the business, and that there is budget made available to prevent or limit the damage of an attack. That discussion will prove critical if the company wants to implement added protections, such as improved cyber hygiene, or put in place automated reactive technologies to limit the spread of an attack. If the CIO or CISO is not already regularly having these conversations about cybersecurity or ransomware in particular, that's definitely a good place to start for 2020.
4. Tailored Training: There is one vulnerability that has proven effective again and again as an entry point for attack: people. You can buy all the latest and greatest cybersecurity technology, but if you aren't training your employees in basic cybersecurity or how to respond during an attack, then you're leaving yourself vulnerable. Training to prevent ransomware starts by teaching employees to recognize phishing attacks and what to do if they suspect one. This is important because — even though many users have gotten better — phishing remains one of the most effective ways for an attacker to breach an organization. Teaching users to validate URLs or avoid clicking on links or attachments altogether can go a long way toward protecting against all types of attacks. This is a good practice to start or revisit in 2020.
In addition to preventing an attack, security leaders can also think about adding specific training for ransomware response. It's pretty easy for an employee to know when they've been hit with ransomware — their work screen may go away and they may get a pop-up directing you to a URL to pay the ransomware (likely in bitcoin). Training employees in what steps they can take in response or giving them an emergency point of contact on the security team can make them feel more in control in the panic of an attack.
5. Limit the Scope of an Attack: Ransomware resolutions should include not only preventing an attack but also taking steps to minimize the damage of a successful one. That starts with having tools in place, such as SIEM systems that can identify the behavior patterns and heuristics of an attack and begin to automatically isolate and remediate those systems when indicators are flagged. It also means embracing tools such as network segmentation that can prevent the lateral movement of an attack across the network.