Whether it’s schools, hospitals, or even critical infrastructure, ransomware is causing destruction in almost every sector of the economy. With each passing year, ransomware is becoming more widespread and more dangerous. and knowing how to prevent ransomware attacks is becoming more essential.
Making matters worse, a mistake by almost anyone in an organization can lead to a ransomware infection. This means a basic understanding of cybersecurity is rapidly becoming as essential as knowing how to use email.
Strong operational procedures are important, but hackers are continuously changing their methods. The best means of protecting against ransomware attacks is if all network users have a strong understanding of how and why ransomware attacks happen.
This article will look at some of the most common ransomware attack vectors, and how to stop them.
Protecting Against Ransomware Attack Vectors
When building up your capacity to prevent ransomware attacks, it’s important to get your priorities straight. Some types of attacks are more common than others, so it’s best to start with the highest risk areas, and then work your way down.
Of course, the ideal is to implement all of the upgrades at the same time, but that’s not always possible in every case.
Social engineering attacks, also known as phishing attacks, are the most common way that a network gets a ransomware infection. Phishing works by exploiting human errors, making it hard to defend against using traditional cybersecurity measures.
Phishing attacks typically work by tricking a network user into clicking a malicious link or downloading a malicious email attachment. Viruses have come a long way over the years— viruses are no longer delivered in .exe files, but can also appear in .pdf attachments and other less suspicious formats.
Most of us know by now that we shouldn’t open strange attachments from unknown emails, but hackers are finding ways around that. In some cases, hackers will take control of the email account of a colleague in preparation for an attack. They may study the patterns of communication and even the style of writing of the person behind the account, and then use it to deliver an email or message that appears as part of a normal conversation.
Hackers may use other tricks, such as using SEO bombing to catch people in high volume search terms, like those relating to holidays or major sporting events. Fake websites that look identical to the real ones may also steal usernames and passwords. This is one reason it’s very important to have separate passwords and security practices for work and personal use.
Phishing is a complex subject, and one that highlights the need for more communication between cybersecurity experts and other network users. The best way to prevent phishing is to make sure everyone using a network is up to date with the best practices for handling links and attachments.
A good way to accomplish this is to have monthly or quarterly meetings with cybersecurity experts to learn about the latest phishing trends, and how to identify and avoid attacks. Hiring employees who have some understanding of cybersecurity can also help to avoid mistakes. Cybersecurity may be the next “must have” item for your resume!
- Stay up to date with the latest phishing trends.
- Have a program in place for educating network users with anti-phishing techniques.
- Don’t use the same passwords for personal and business accounts!
- Use tools for detecting malicious links and attachments.
Remote Desktop Protocols
Remote Desktop Protocols (RDPs) are another of the most common ransomware attack vectors. It’s not hard to see why— RDPs basically allow someone to remotely use a computer as if they were sitting in front of it.
It’s easy for hackers to scan the internet for open RDP ports, and simply run brute force attacks on them. This means that many RDP attacks can be prevented simply by using strong passwords.
The first thing to check, however, is if you need RDP at all. A huge number of computers have RDP enabled, although they don’t need it at all. Many of those use weak passwords. These practices make “low-hanging fruit” for hackers.
If you do need to use RDP, you can configure it so that only approved IP addresses can access it. Rate limiting also increases security by limiting the number of attempted logins a brute force attacker can make.
Finally, multifactor authentication (MFA) can also make things much more difficult for hackers.
- Disable RDP on any machines where it’s not needed.
- Use strong, unique passwords.
- Limit access to “whitelisted” IP addresses.
- Use rate limiting to reduce how many times a brute force attacker can guess your password.
- Use Multi-factor authentication (MFA).
Although less common than phishing or RDP attacks, a significant number of attacks originate from software vulnerabilities. In most cases, this can be prevented by avoiding outdated software, and staying up to date with all software patches and upgrades.
Every organization should have regular audits of their software suite, and compare it to databases of known vulnerabilities. This is important not just for preventing attacks, but also to avoid making yourself a target. Using out of date software is often a sign of lax security practices, so many hackers look for this when choosing their victims.
- Conduct regular audits to make sure your software is up-to-date with all patches and upgrades.
- Don’t use out of date software with known vulnerabilities.
It’s natural to focus on preventing attacks completely, and this is the ideal. However, it’s important to “hope for the best, plan for the worst.”
Some internal security measures can dramatically reduce the scope of damage hackers can do after they breach a network by preventing ransomware spreading laterally. Using MFA inside the network and exercising the “principle of least privilege” are some of the most important methods of achieving this.
MFA can be a nuisance for employees, but it makes unauthorized access to critical parts of a network much more difficult. The principle of least privilege means giving every user on a network no more privileges than what they absolutely need. Most organizations with good cybersecurity practices conduct regular audits to make sure the principle of least privilege is well implemented.
Network monitoring services, either in house or outsourced, can also make the difference between a minor breach and a catastrophic network shutdown.
- Conduct regular audits to make sure your network conforms to the principle of least privilege.
- Enable MFA on movement between different parts of a network.
- Get professional network monitoring services to detect suspicious activity.
Preventing Ransomware Attacks Requires Continuous Effort
There is a lot more to preventing ransomware attacks than just buying premium antivirus software. It requires fundamental changes in business practices and continuous effort. This is one reason so many organizations neglect it.
However, cybersecurity is one case where a little bit of prevention is worth a lot of cure. As annoying as it may seem, the effort that goes into protecting against ransomware attacks is much less than the damage caused by a typical ransomware attack.
Rather than focusing on specific security measures, your ransomware defense efforts should center around implementing good cybersecurity principles, like the principle of least privilege and network compartmentalization. Once these concepts become part of your regular workflow, cybersecurity can become second nature at all levels of your organization.