Because of a few key elements, ransomware is a growing threat for all Internet-connected enterprises. First, the barrier to entry in terms of cost is very low for adversaries because ransomware is inexpensive to purchase on the Dark Web. Second, ransomware is often distributed via email, which is also inexpensive (if not free) and can be used for targeted or random attacks. Finally, ransomware exploits the weakest element of cybersecurity: people.
Recently, the news of attacks in Atlanta, Baltimore, and throughout Texas have shown just how devastating ransomware attacks can be to state and local governments.
- Atlanta spent more than $2.6 million in 2018 to recover from an attack, where adversaries demanded roughly $50,000.
- In 2019, Baltimore will likely endure more than $18 million in expenses to recover from a ransomware attack that demanded 13 bitcoin (roughly $75,000).
- In Texas, widespread ransomware attacks have affected computer systems in 22 municipalities, with one mayor confirming that attackers demanded $2.5 million.
While the specific ransomware used in each of these attacks was different, there is a common theme that ran through these ransomware attacks: Intended victims were not prepared to respond.
While ransomware continues to rise, most experts and the FBI strongly discourage paying ransom because A) paying ransom does not guarantee systems or data will be restored, and B) paying ransom makes a victim much more likely to be targeted again.
How to Prepare for Ransomware Attacks
If you don't pay a ransom, how do you reduce the impact of ransomware attacks? There are five best practices that can greatly reduce the likelihood of being attacked and, more importantly, can greatly reduce the impact if and when a ransomware strike occurs.
1. Asset identification and management: Having a current configuration management database and crown jewels assessment (CJA) are crucial. (A CJA identifies cyber assets that are most critical to the accomplishment of an organization's mission.) Adversaries will target a combination of the most valuable and most vulnerable systems and data. You will want to view your environment from the perspective of an adversary.
2. Patch management: Knowing your own environment is not much value if you don't also protect it. Most attacks are not flashy "zero-day" exploits. Adversaries are recyclers who will gladly use an old exploit against a new target. A prime example of this is Heartbleed, an attack that still successfully capitalized on a five-year-old vulnerability (CVE-2014-0160) because victim organizations refuse to adapt. Don't be an easy target!
3. Threat intelligence: While most cybersecurity organizations continue to focus their gaze internally, the only way to move from reactive to proactive is through intelligence. Cybersecurity professionals who understand threat trends and the landscape, which includes adversaries, tactics, techniques, and procedures, are empowered to capitalize on such knowledge to prevent attacks.
4. Automation: Organizations are overrun with massive amounts of data, information, and intelligence. Considering the skills gap that is still challenging the industry, there is rarely enough time in the day to adequately address all critical or high-level security events, let alone the moderate and low risks. Only through automation, wherein machines capitalize on high-fidelity intelligence to take actions without human intervention, can cyber defenders have the time needed to focus on the biggest-impact security matters.
5. Training: Whether in the physical world or cyberspace, people continue to be the weakest link. A robust training program, one that continually incorporates rewards and retraining, will keep personnel aware and vigilant when it comes to the types of phishing campaigns that often lead to ransomware attacks.
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