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Combating the Ongoing Ransomware Menace: Essential Tips for Self-Protection

Apr 24, 2024
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Organizations afflicted by ransomware confront multilevel extortions that proliferate rapidly. These campaigns unfold in diverse ways, posing a significant challenge for numerous firms.

Today, ransomware stands out as an exceptionally daunting cyber hazard amidst our digital progression. As technology advances, so do the complexities of ransomware, which presents a formidable obstacle for individuals and institutions alike.

As we progress into 2024, grasping the evolving nature of ransomware is essential to help inform the most effective and robust defense mechanisms.

New ransomware attack techniques emerge daily

SMEs, corporations, and government bodies have become prime targets, marking a notable trend shift. These attacks are meticulously orchestrated rather than haphazard, with perpetrators gathering intelligence to tailor their ransomware attacks for maximal effect.

A striking illustration is Dollar Tree’s recent third-party data breach that led to the loss of nearly 2 million employee records. The attack shows how even significant enterprises are affected by ransomware attacks. Furthermore, the incident underscores the inclination of cybercriminals toward high-profile targets, seeking larger ransoms and more considerable potential for disruption.


The menace of  ransomware double extortion

The emergence of dual extortion marks a pivotal moment in the continual development of ransomware tactics. Current ransomware attack approaches adhere to a familiar pattern: Encrypt vital files of targeted entities and demand payment for decryption keys. Yet, given the uncertainty surrounding cybercriminals’ reliability in restoring encrypted files, some companies choose to forgo ransom payments, mainly if they maintain backup copies of their files.

However, in late 2019, Maze introduced a groundbreaking approach with its dual extortion strategy, presenting victims with a gripping ultimatum: Either meet the ransom demands or risk the ransomware perpetrators exposing their sensitive data to the public.

The pressure mounts on organizations affected by file access loss, pushing them towards meeting ransom demands. This escalation intensifies with the threat of exposing data publicly, particularly when sensitive information is at risk.

The complexity of double extortion lies in the fact that even if a victimized company manages to recover all lost data, the risk of sensitive information being exposed persists. This scenario happened with a video game development firm that restored its data from a backup. Nonetheless, it still grappled with the theft of confidential data and source codes, which was leaked on a platform linked to Babuk Locker.


RaaS model causing an upsurge in ransomware attacks

Dual extortion isn’t the only unsettling concern for security experts. The rise of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) models has fundamentally reshaped the ransomware landscape. These platforms, characterized by business-like effectiveness, provide easy-to-use interfaces, customer assistance, and comprehensive ‘ransomware packages’ containing tailored malware, decryption solutions, and payment processing mechanisms.

Operating on subscription- or commission-based structures, they offer financial accessibility to individuals with limited technical know-how. As a result, this transformation has broadened the spectrum of cybercriminals and escalated the occurrence and variety of ransomware attacks, presenting a substantial obstacle for global cybersecurity defenses.

While RaaS isn’t a novel strategy in the cyber arena, its adoption is swiftly on the rise among threat actors. Over the last half-decade, cybercriminals have recognized the financial efficacy of ransomware and have also grasped the potential benefits of collaboration. Nowadays, they are pooling resources and leveraging each other’s expertise to amplify their ransomware campaigns, share the proceeds, and leverage stolen data for future cyber assaults, mainly targeting larger organizations.

And the shocking news is that RaaS attacks will continue increasing in 2024. Take, for instance, the case of Cl0P, a ransomware syndicate that exploited a zero-day vulnerability in MOVEiT Transfer, a widely-used file transfer service. Through this exploit alone, the group managed to impact thousands of entities, ranging from local government agencies to significant organizations in the United Kingdom, including British Airways. Such an attack will likely serve as a model for future incidents.

Moreover, this extensive string of attacks disrupted operations for organizations worldwide. It served as a stark reminder to cybersecurity experts and cybercriminals that, alongside monetary gains, data theft holds considerable value.


The ethical dilemma of paying ransoms 

Negotiating with ransomware perpetrators raises ethical predicaments. While paying the ransom might appear as the swiftest means to reinstate operations and protect confidential data, this course of action has ethical dilemmas.

Firstly, submitting to ransom demands could be interpreted as bankrolling cybercrime enterprises. This decision not only spreads the ransomware ecosystem but also feasibly funds additional varieties of cyber malfeasance.

Furthermore, yielding to ransom requests establishes a precedent for the affected organization and the broader industry, indicating that ransomware holds the potential to be a lucrative pursuit for cyber offenders.

Moreover, there is no assurance paying a ransom will cause the attackers to provide a decryption key or unlock the compromised systems. Conversely, some contend that paying a ransom represents the sole feasible recourse for specific individuals and entities, mainly if the encrypted data is indispensable to their operations. In certain instances, the expense of meeting the ransom may be lower than the lost revenue or harm to reputation incurred from extended downtime periods.

Ultimately, opting to pay a ransom is a multi-faceted decision contingent on several factors, such as the gravity of the attack, the significance of the encrypted data, and the financial capacity of the victim. Organizations must contemplate the ethical ramifications of their choices and solicit advice from law enforcement and cybersecurity professionals before reaching any conclusions.


Prevention and response strategies

Preventing and responding to ransomware attacks requires a multi-faceted approach that includes technical measures, human factors, and strategic planning. Here are some best practices:

1.    Outsourcing to Professional Cybersecurity Companies

Outsourcing cybersecurity to professional experts is a proven strategy for preventing and responding to ransomware attacks. Companies like Pulsar Security have the expertise and resources to protect against various ransomware threats, including DDoS, phishing, and other security threats. They leverage round-the-clock monitoring tools and state-of-the-art equipment to identify threats, process events, and block attacks around the clock.

More importantly, professional cybersecurity companies possess a vast pool of qualified and talented experts proficient in preventing the most recent cyber threats, often out of the reach of numerous organizations.

2.    Leverage early detection systems

As ransomware attacks grow more complex and the stakes rise, the significance of early detection, prevention, and response capabilities cannot be underscored. Any undiscovered vulnerability in your network represents a potential weak point, which could lead to extended unplanned downtime, increased expenses, and a more profound impact on revenue, profitability, reputation, and customers.

Most IT security budgets prioritize prevention, with approximately 35% allocated to detection and response. Nonetheless, if an intrusion goes unnoticed, it can swiftly escalate. Once your data is encrypted or stolen, the costs can skyrocket—up to 1,000 times higher than if the incidents were identified and confined early.

3.    Collaborate with other organizations and cybersecurity firms

Combating ransomware effectively requires collaborative endeavors. Organizations should increasingly exchange information with cybersecurity firms and governmental bodies and share insights on emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and effective defense tactics.

Also, this collaboration should extend to crafting communal resources such as threat repositories, analytical utilities, and exemplary protocol guidelines. Furthermore, joint cybersecurity exercises and simulations involving diverse stakeholders should be more prevalent to enhance readiness and response capabilities against orchestrated ransomware assaults.

4.    Enhance response capabilities against multi-layered ransomware schemes

Ransomware attacks are advancing into sophisticated, multi-faceted extortion tactics. These encompass a blend of data encryption, data exfiltration, and additional coercive methods, including Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or manipulative social engineering methods targeting organizations, customers, and employees. Perpetrators often employ psychological strategies to heighten threats to intensify pressure on victims.

Hence, addressing such sophisticated schemes necessitates nuanced response strategies that combine technical prevention solutions with crisis management and legal deliberations.

5.    Constantly update your applications and systems

Regularly updating systems and applications is crucial to protecting against ransomware attacks. It allows organizations to significantly reduce the risk of malicious actors exploiting unpatched security threats.

Besides, application and system updates often include critical fixes to known vulnerabilities that cybercriminals may exploit to infiltrate systems and execute ransomware attacks.

Staying current with updates ensures that security measures are up-to-date and aligned with emerging threats. Maintaining systems and software proactively bolsters cybersecurity resilience and serves as an upbeat defense strategy, thwarting potential ransomware threats before they can inflict significant damage.

However, manual updating may cause companies to miss critical updates. Hence, organizations should consider using automated solutions that certified professionals continuously monitor to ensure they access and install real-time updates.

6.    Implement a layered security approach

Implementing a layered security approach is imperative for safeguarding against ransomware threats. It involves deploying multiple security measures at various levels to create overlapping defenses, enhancing overall resilience. One layer may involve robust endpoint protection solutions equipped with real-time threat detection capabilities to intercept ransomware attempts at the device level.

Also, deploying network security protocols such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems to monitor and filter incoming and outgoing traffic for suspicious activities helps detect and prevent ransomware incidents.

Additionally, enforcing stringent access controls and implementing regular security awareness training for employees is essential in preventing human error-based ransomware incursions, such as phishing attacks.



You can contact us today to learn more about ransomware and our security solutions to enhance the protection of your organization.

Corey Belanger

Corey Belanger

Corey is a Security Consultant and leads QA of product development, using his expertise in these dual roles to more effectively test and secure applications, whether while building enterprise applications or while performing penetration tests and vulnerability assessments for customers. An Army veteran with a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Corey has built a post-military career in security while earning Network+, Security+, GIAC Certified Incident Handler, GIAC Python Coder, GIAC Web App Penetration Testing, and GIAC Penetration Tester certifications. Corey is also a BsidesNH organizer and founding member of TechRamp, avenues which he uses to help others build their skills for careers in security and technology. Fun Fact: When not manning a terminal or watching the Bruins, Corey can often be found snowboarding or riding his motorcycle.