According to a recent ransomware report from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT), 2016 saw a wave of ransomware attacks that were increasingly sophisticated and stealthy. The FBI forecast that the haul from ransomware would reach a billion dollars last year, and it seems as if no industry is safe from being targeted. As ICIT reports, even critical infrastructure entities such as healthcare organizations have become prime targets, with hospitals in the US and Germany paying ransoms rather than risk their patients’ lives.
Why is this alarming increase occurring? ICIT argues that it's due to the highly profitable nature of ransomware attacks coupled with inadequate enterprise defenses. Combined, these two factors are attracting a more advanced breed of cybercriminal who is motivated by the potential of a bigger payout, faster and more anonymous — and thus less risky — than the advanced persistent threat exploits often used to steal credit card numbers and other sensitive data.
Compounding these challenges is the fact that law enforcement agencies have not provided a unified response to the ransomware threat, in some cases advising victim organizations to pay the ransom to retrieve their data. At the same time, criminal hackers have developed ways to circumvent standard security measures such as sandboxing and intrusion prevention systems.
If that's not enough to convince you, here are four more reasons to take ransomware seriously:
- Standard security solutions may not protect you. Ransomware's ability to quickly change and mutate utilizing polymorphic or fileless malware has exponentially increased opportunities for ransomware to find its way into your organization. Conventional endpoint protection that relies on signature-based detection isn't up to the task of finding ransomware before it strikes. Adding solutions such as whitelisting, the ability to detect indicators of compromise, or machine learning can increase your protection, but in some cases will be unable to prevent an attack. And unlike malware infections that slowly exfiltrate your data so that postinfection detection may minimize loss, in the case of ransomware, prevention is often your only recourse. Once ransomware enters undetected, your data is immediately encrypted and inaccessible, or your systems are locked down.
- Compliance may be at stake. Most organizations retain sensitive data that is subject to regulatory legislation mandating its protection. When a breach happens and data is exposed, the victim organization must inform its customers and partners, and can incur substantial fines if regulations are affected. Ransomware attacks may not result in protected data being stolen, but organizations are still responsible for alerting all their constituents if an attack occurs. This can cause significant damage to an organization's brand. As Dark Reading reports, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has come down hard on companies that fail to protect their customers’ data. FTC Chairperson Edith Ramirez recently suggested that a company's failure to take action to prevent a ransomware attack could result in enforcement action — even if the company hasn't been the victim of an attack.
- Data recovery can be complex and costly. The cost and complexity of recovering files after a ransomware attack are why many companies, particularly smaller organizations, choose to pay the ransom. Even with a comprehensive backup system, in today's widely distributed organizations, files can be located across hundreds of devices. Though the attack may begin on one laptop, the ransomware could have access to other systems connected to the laptop, resulting in a costly drain on IT resources as they struggle to map and contain the damage. Even worse, if you’re the victim of a new ransomware variant that’s able to delete your backup files, recovery won’t be an option.
The Best Defense Against Ransomware
To combat the escalating level of ransomware sophistication, organizations need a multifaceted approach with complementary prevention and detection methods. One important method is to focus on indicators of attack (IoAs), a form of behavior-based detection that looks at the underlying actions taken by the threat rather than trying to pattern-match a new file to a signature. An IoA can prevent multiple variants and versions of ransomware families, including new ones not detectable by known signatures or features. Coupled with endpoint detection and response, machine learning, and proactive threat hunting by security experts, organizations can ensure that they have the prevention capabilities in place to alert teams of ransomware attempts before encryption can be initiated.