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Alex Tray
Alex Tray

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6 Common Mistakes That Lead to Ransomware Attacks and How to Avoid Them

The number of companies moving towards a virtualized environment is growing, and so is the number of risks that threaten their data. Malware, ransomware attacks and phishing emails are the most concerning types of cyber threats for small, medium and large businesses.

Now more than ever, it is crucial to understand how ransomware operates. This blog post explains the common mistakes you might be making that leave your organization and all its data vulnerable to cybercriminals. Read on to learn about the different measures that you could take to prevent cyberattacks and maximize your ransomware protection.

What is a Ransomware Attack?

Kidnapping people and holding them for ransom is an ancient and well-known crime. Ransomware may be less famous, but it does the same thing to data. In other words, the malware implements encryption restricting the user or organization from accessing their files or applications. In most cases, the attackers demand a fee in return for freeing up the data. Luckily, advanced data protection tools can help you avoid paying the ransom and ensure business continuity. Find more information here.

Ransomware attacks are becoming more common and increasingly sophisticated by the day. The attack is usually designed to impact multiple endpoints or even an entire network to capture as much data as possible and subsequently cripple the whole organization. Server infrastructure, network storage and backup repositories are also popular targets.

Types and ransomware examples
The design, mechanism and even the purpose of ransomware can vary significantly. These differences make it more difficult to anticipate the type of attack you might encounter. Below are the known ransomware examples:

  • Encrypting ransomware: The most common and probably the most dangerous type. As its name suggests, encrypting ransomware gives the attacker access to your files and encrypts them. You can still browse through the folders but you will not be able to use anything. In most cases, the names of files and folders are changed to confuse the victim further.
  • Screen lockers: victims are completely locked out from accessing their computers. The startup screen will display the message that the attackers want you to read.
  • Scareware: a pop-up notification appears on the screen telling users that malware was discovered on their computer when in fact, there is no malware. Nothing will happen if you ignore this message but if you click on it, you will end up downloading the ransomware.
  • Master boot record (MBR): this ransomware encrypts the entire hard drive and prevents users from accessing their computers. Similar to a screen locker, it will display the ransom note on the startup screen.
  • Doxware: in this case, the attacker will try to use the malware to publish confidential and business-critical data online.

There is also mobile ransomware that targets smartphones to either steal data or lock the mobile device to demand a ransom.

Impact of ransomware attacks
The effects of ransomware attacks widely differ based on your data protection tools and disaster recovery strategy. Companies that fall prey to ransomware usually report some of the following:

  • Extensive downtime
  • Data and IT infrastructure damage
  • Reduced employee productivity
  • Costly recovery process
  • Damage to business reputation and loss of potential customers or revenue
  • Irreparable damage leading to complete shutdown.

Common Mistakes That Lead to Ransomware Attacks

As scary as it seems, a ransomware infection can be avoided with adequate training and vigilance. It is important to impress upon the organization, though, that preventing attacks is the responsibility of every user and not just the IT team.

Phishing emails and lack of security training
Ransomware attacks need an entry point, and in the vast majority of cases, they rely on human error or inexperience. Statista reports that spam and phishing emails account for more than half of all malware delivery methods.

Cybersecurity training, and phishing awareness in particular, is becoming increasingly common. Companies want to protect their data and the only way to do so is by ensuring that every employee receives the required training. It is equally important to conduct regular tests to remind users to stay alert and report any suspicious activity.

Unsafe remote desktop protocols (RDP)
Remote work is on the rise and so is the use of remote desktop protocols (RDP). This has caused nightmares for IT teams because RDP is a common target for ransomware attacks. What makes this a vulnerability is weak passwords. The latest ransomware trends show that accounts with simple passwords make it easier for attackers to gain access. As a general rule, always create strong and complex passwords. In the case of RDP, you can configure the settings to prevent login after several incorrect attempts.

Delayed patching or system updates
Outdated desktop and server operating systems are always prone to cyberattacks due to growing security gaps. Organizations must update system versions as soon as possible to avoid possible ransomware attacks and other threats that jeopardize their workloads, such as data corruption.

Relying on old hardware
Some companies will delay or ignore upgrading their hardware to cut expenses. However, at some point, newer software will no longer function properly on old hardware, which makes it vulnerable to ransomware infection. Attackers keep a lookout for these exposures and strike whenever they see an easy target. Make sure your equipment is well maintained and continuously upgraded.

Lack of cybersecurity knowledge among executives
In some organizations, senior management is more than happy to offload all cyber protection matters to their IT personnel. This should not be the case since company-wide decisions that sometimes involve data protection strategies usually come from executives. From allocating funds for hardware upgrades to arranging training programs, business leaders are required to have an adequate understanding of the field of cybersecurity.
Failing to invest in a modern data protection solution
As ransomware attacks continue to evolve, standard antivirus software is not enough to guarantee data security. Nowadays, it is crucial to rely on ransomware protection solutions with an extensive list of features that allow you to mitigate the growing risks.

Ransomware Protection Through Backups

Having a disaster recovery plan is probably the best technique to overturn the detrimental impact of a ransomware attack. It all starts with a reliable backup and recovery solution that includes various functionalities that help ensure data integrity.

Advanced storage tiering
The golden 3-2-1-1 backup rule dictates that you should always have at least three (3) copies of your data, kept in two (2) different storage media, with one (1) copy stored offsite and one (1) copy offline or on tape. This method will almost certainly eliminate a single point of failure, so if you are ever struck by ransomware, you could always revert to one of those backup copies.

Recovery testing and verification
Imagine that a ransomware attack has locked your data, so you rush to restore your backups only to discover that they are corrupted. This can be avoided. Testing backup recoverability is of utmost importance and most data protection solutions provide this functionality.

Additional security tools
Modern backup solutions are designed to safeguard your data thanks to various security features such as:
Immutability: ransomware can also target repositories and encrypt backups however, immutable backups will not be affected.
Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): restrict unauthorized access by assigning and customizing unique roles and permissions.

Conclusion

While it is almost impossible to guarantee that a ransomware attack will not target you, you can definitely prepare yourself by planning ahead and having the right tools. Avoiding the common mistakes mentioned in this blog post and investing in a modern backup solution should be more than enough for optimal ransomware protection.

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