Ransomware Attack - Types, How It Works, and How to Prevent It

By Haseeb Awan

The risk landscape awareness of any organization has become significantly important in the last few years due to the growing sophistication and diversity of threat actors and their tactics. Ransomware threats are now a significant part of that landscape. To establish a strong threat intelligence programme and keep your assets, infrastructure, and personnel safe, you must understand what ransomware is, how many vulnerabilities it poses, and how to develop an effective response and recovery strategy.

What is Ransomware?

Organizations affected by ransomware cannot access their sensitive data after data encryption blocks their access, and a ransom must pay to unlock it safely. Personnel facing a ransomware attack deny access to internal data, programs, and ransomware software. It often spreads across an organization's infrastructure and attacks its database and file servers, forcing the company to pay the ransom. As threats become more severe, threat actors have adopted strategies to increase payment likelihood by threatening to leak sensitive information, dox executives, or notify customers that the company is unwilling to pay to protect its data.

History of Ransomware

Ransomware has been around for almost four decades, becoming increasingly prevalent in the last decade. The AIDS Trojan, also known as the PC Cyborg Virus, was one of the first ransomware attacks, and Threat actors distributed it through floppy disks in 1989. Victims were required to pay $189 by post to a Panama postbox to regain access, but the encryption method would not have prevented organizations from accessing their systems today.

Before the 2000s, it wasn't easy to efficiently receive ransomware payments, making them rare compared to today. Threat actors mainly collected payments through Western Union or MoneyGram or requested users to send prepaid debit cards via MoneyPak. This attack has grown in popularity due to the advent of cryptocurrency, making it much easier for threat actors to receive payments and benefit quickly.

Increasingly sophisticated ransomware attacks have prompted many threat actors to employ other strategies and hold sensitive data hostage, encouraging organizations to pay up quickly. Release private information to the general public or a company's board. A common secondary threat further damages an organization's reputation after an attack.

Flashpoint has observed four distinct methods employed in a single attack, usually starting with data encryption and theft and proceeding to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. It renders victims' websites inaccessible to clients, resulting in customer harassment, which consists of the attackers directly communicating with customers, investors, and the media to publicize the assault.

Because of this, ransomware often disables organizations and leaves them unable to move forward without giving in to demands. Making ransomware a growing concern for the organization's as more malicious actors try to capitalize on this lucrative attack vector.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware infiltrates an organization's system, encrypts files, so they are inaccessible to other users, and sends a ransom demand to the victim. The following are the most common ways that threat actors achieve these outcomes, though they mainly divide into the following categories:

Distribution and Infection Tactics

Threat actors use a variety of insertion vectors to infect an organization's database to gain initial access to a system. The following are some of the most usual:

  • Drive by Downloading: An organization's data can be encrypted by ransomware if members visit websites containing malware and bring it back to the local device and the company's infrastructure.
  • Phishing Emails: An organization's members send emails containing malicious malware links from outside the company. The message entices the recipient to click the link, supposedly for a legitimate purpose, and the ransomware can subsequently infect the system.
  • Direct Infiltration: Ransomware attacks can be perpetrated by threat actors directly hacking into an organization's network, allowing them to infect company infrastructure themselves. They specifically target unpatched systems that leave an organization open to vulnerabilities, making it easier for attackers to distribute the malware needed to execute a ransomware attack.
  • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Compromise: An attacker who has obtained a user's device login credentials may log into a computer within an organization's network and control the device to download malware and perpetrate a ransomware attack.

Types of Ransomware Attacks

There are various types of ransomware, including:

Doxware/Leakware:

When organizations do not pay a ransom, Doxware or Leakware steals confidential information and makes it public. Because personnel panic when this type of ransomware utilizes, it is often effective. Reputation damage following an attack is the reason why personnel panic.

Encryptors:

An Encryptor locks a system's data and makes it inaccessible unless a decryption key provides. Encryptors are one of the most prevalent types of ransomware. They can cause extensive and devastating damage.

Scareware:

A scareware programme masquerades as a virus and directs victims to a website to pay for a 'solution'. Some inundate the screen with pop-up messages, while others lock down the machine, making it unusable for employees.

Ransomware-as-a-Service:

RaaS has become more prevalent in recent years and refers to anonymous threat actors that act on behalf of another party to carry out an attack. Infiltrating a system and collecting a ransom, these anonymous hackers receive a portion of the payment in exchange for their assistance.

Lockers:

Rather than encrypting files individually, lockers lock users out so they cannot access any of their infrastructures without paying to have them unlocked. This type of attack accompanies a simple display that demands a ransom and may include a timer to encourage a fast response from the organization.

What Are the Things Threat Actors Search for to Target Organizations?

Threat actors are particularly interested in specific weaknesses that are under your control since they will make an attack relatively easy:

  • Outdated operating systems and browsers.
  • Using outdated software or hardware raises the risk that your networks include vulnerable security flaws malicious hackers could employ to access your data.
  • A lack of focus on cybersecurity training and knowledge increases the likelihood that an attack will be effective and leaves the business without a well-coordinated resistance mechanism.
  • A lack of a reliable backup makes extracting a ransom payment from a company's files and data simpler when malware utilizes to encrypt them.
  • A lack of a proper backup makes the use of malware to encrypt an organization's file and data more harmful and easier to leverage a ransom payment from

In addition, there are other factors that, while somewhat unchangeable, may render some businesses more vulnerable to ransomware attacks. The organization should highlight these factors and the significance of a solid defence plan and ransomware prevention.

Numerous organizations are the target of ransomware attacks:

  • Ransomware actors are often motivated by money, so targets that can pay higher ransom fees are more favourable. The entertainment industry is one of the most-targeted categories because its companies frequently have the resources and desire to regain their stolen files.
  • An organization with valuable, accessible data is more likely to be targeted by ransomware actors. Because it increases the chances that the organization will pay to retrieve the data and provides the threat actor with a backup in case third parties in underground communities are unwilling to pay for the stolen data.
  • An infrastructure weakness can make an organization with many remote workers more vulnerable to ransomware because such workers require more software and systems that may be susceptible to attack.
  • Ransomware attacks have the potential to cause extensive damage, even if financial gain is usually the motivation. Some threat actors use these attacks to cause widespread damage to magnify their impact. Supply chain organizations are one example of an organization type that can cause collateral damage to many other organizations due to a single attack.

How to Prevent a Ransomware Attack

When evaluating how much risk ransomware poses to your organization, it's essential to weigh all the relevant variables. A potent threat intelligence program is an excellent start to defending your assets and infrastructure against attacks, but it is just one element of an excellent defensive strategy.

When evaluating how much risk ransomware poses to your organization, it's essential to weigh all the relevant variables. A potent threat intelligence program is an excellent start to defending your assets and infrastructure against attacks, but it is just one element of an excellent defensive strategy.

  • Avoid disclosing confidential info that malicious attackers could use to access your device or system and compromise your business.
  • Avoid clicking on dubious email links and potentially malicious links.
  • Preventing the utilization of USB sticks or downloads from unreliable sites that might compromise your system with malware
  • Updating current operating systems and programs to benefit from the most recent security fixes that help safeguard your contents and device
  • Making use of a VPN when utilizing public WiFi networks

An effective cyber awareness training program is among the most successful ways to prevent ransomware attacks. By educating your employees about cybersecurity best practices and how they can help make your organization safer, you can defend against successful ransomware distribution through tactics like email phishing. The following are the best practices for individuals:

  • In addition to exploiting RDP vulnerabilities, threat actors frequently gain access to devices and data to encrypt using a wide variety of TTP, including user authentication and other policies. Because strong passwords and MFA are essential to preventing RDP exploitation in an organization, limiting data access to what each employee needs to do is also critical. It also minimizes an adversary's access to company files, which minimizes an employee's access to company data.
  • A reliable backup system to protect your data is essential during a ransomware attack, as it ensures that even if your original files are encrypted, you will still have access to your infrastructure. It's essential to safeguard this backup so that it cannot be encrypted and used against you in the future.
  • Preparing your team for the eventuality of an attack by conducting tabletop exercises and cyber extortion-specific training before an attack is a powerful way to strengthen your response strategy and ensure that involved parties carry out their responsibilities properly if an attack occurs. By educating employees on common threat actor TTP, such as social engineering, company-wide training can help reduce the likelihood that a ransomware actor will successfully infiltrate your company.
  • A strong anti-ransomware program is crucial to keep employees from spreading malware through their devices. It is critical to remember that some cybercriminals use other tactics or well-researched and sophisticated spear phishing attacks to trick even the most careful employees. So it is crucial to have a contingency plan if your firm hits with malware. Organizations can prevent ransomware encryption if they have programs that detect potential malware behaviour and prevent the encryption of files before you can no longer access them. You can get a safety net if ransomware distributes to any organization's devices by installing programs. That detects ransomware behaviour and prevents file encryption.
  • An up-to-date IR playbook can help you optimize your response to ransomware attacks. By ensuring that you maintain an updated playbook that contains information about your organization's resources and capabilities, you are positioning your company and teams to act quickly during an emergency. By consistently improving your response plan and expanding its resources, you ensure it is up to date.
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