The global rise of ransomware has businesses taking a closer look at their protective tools.
More than one-third (35%) of security pros in Dark Reading's "The State of Ransomware" survey detected ransomware on their systems in the past year. Only 27% say modern antimalware tools are very effective in stopping ransomware; 56% think they are somewhat effective.
Half of IT practitioners believe it will be harder to prevent ransomware from infecting their systems two years from now, researchers found. This begs the question: what are security vendors doing to improve the effectiveness of their systems, and which should businesses use?
"Because ransomware is high-profile, it's an opportunity for practitioners to be proactive and have a discussion about response and upgrading defenses," says Mike Rothman, analyst and president at Securosis. "They go after everybody, and everybody can pay ransom."
Advancing endpoint security
"One of the things we see businesses doing is turning to their messaging security provider first for answers and solutions," says Rob Westervelt, research manager within IDC's security products group. "That's blocking it before it even gets to the end user, which ultimately is best as opposed to having the end user click a malicious attachment or malicious URL."
When attackers bypass messaging filters and employees start clicking malicious attachments that made it into their inboxes, it becomes an endpoint security problem. While he doesn't see many companies building new products to specifically protect against ransomware, Westervelt says there is more messaging from vendors about their ransomware capabilities. Some have begun to add new "bells and whistles" to monitor strange system behavior.
"You have to advance your endpoint protection," says Rothman. If you're dealing with a system from 2013, you don't really stand much of a chance against the attacks that are happening today."
Most endpoint vendors, both traditional antivirus and disruptive startups like Cylance, can monitor for abnormal activity like signs of files being encrypted quickly. Some tools, like Sophos' Intercept X, has technology that can roll back encryption, Westervelt explains. Some solutions, instead of simply alerting to an attack, quarantine a system to ensure it doesn't spread.
"Everyone in endpoint protection is starting to add file monitoring as a new capability in their system," says Rothman. "Looking for anomalous file activity on the endpoint and stopping that … when folks start accessing files that haven't been accessed in a long time, something funky is going on."
Westervelt points to the growth of companies with a stronger focus on file access monitoring. Varonis, for example, solely focuses on data access. It's not so much about looking for malware as it is about monitoring files for abnormal activity. CyberArk, another, focuses on privileged account security. It's not standard AV, he says, but it looks for ransomware behavior.
In addition to monitoring for anomalous file activity, Rothman also advises ensuring you have strong exploit protection and the ability to fight fileless attacks; those that don't use the file system but store the encrypted payload in the registry.
"It's about making sure you're using modern defenses to deal with modern attacks," he continues. "A lot of technology out there is not modern defense."
The problem with additional ransomware protection is the heightened risk of false positives, Westervelt says. A system may start to flag employees who do a lot of encryption and file changes as part of their job, and block behavior that is abnormal but still valid.
"It only takes one false positive, one disruption of an important business deal to cause the CISO to lose their job," he notes.
Preparing a response plan
Regardless of the level of your technical control, Rothman emphasizes the importance of developing a response plan. Many companies don't have a plan, particularly midmarket organizations that pay little attention to security.
"They have to have that initial conversation about what to do if their machines get locked up," he explains. "When your machines are mostly encrypted and showing the 'Pay Us' screen, that's not the time to be figuring this stuff out."
Rothman advises businesses to work through their response processes and what their tolerance would be for a certain set of scenarios. When those are decided, it's time to practice.
"Practice identifies the holes and gaps in your process," he explains. "The only way to figure out what works and what doesn't work is to actually do it … some organizations use tabletop exercises. I can't recommend that enough."
Join Dark Reading LIVE for two days of practical cyber defense discussions. Learn from the industry’s most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the INsecurity agenda here.Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio