Ransomware: 4 ways to protect and recover

We all hear the news – ransomware attacks are an unfortunate part of cyber life. To make matters worse, business is so good for these criminals that they’re developing more and more sophisticated threats. This results in organizations losing access to their data, potentially putting their entire business at risk. These poorly-protected organizations are often forced to pay the ransom – with the “hope” that their data is actually released – or attempt an ad hoc recovery effort without any guarantee of reliable recovery. To maintain access to your critical data, consider these four best practices to protect and recover from ransomware attacks with confidence.

Implementing a multi-layer security strategy – including anti-malware, personal firewall, file encryption, data loss prevention software (DLP) and more – is critical to protect your endpoints and infrastructures against growing cyber threats. However, even with all of these protection solutions, there’s still a modest chance of a breach, which is why backing up your data is key.

Making regular copies of files to a separate device is the only effective way to minimize damage in a cyber attack event. A reliable backup enables people to return to their normal use of the computer with all their files intact at the soonest possible time.

— The Threat Report, Myths In Cybersecurity That People Needs To Forget, 2019

To protect even the most data-intensive business environments from ransomware, we’ve put together the following best practices:

1. Have an effective information security program

If your organization is new to information security, or if you’ve only partially implemented your information security plan, consider taking the following steps to put an effective security program in place:

Table 1: Components of an effective security program

FeatureIntegration
Know where critical data is stored

Complex environments mean maintaining awareness of data location is harder than ever.
• Data center
• Remote facilities
• Cloud
• Service Provider
Inventory systems• Know which systems handle critical data: store, process and transmit
• Understand the data flow
• Determine which systems present the highest risk to your operations
Assess riskInclude electronic records, physical media, and the availability of key systems, services, or devices
Apply security controlsSelect, apply and manage security controls based on risk
Monitor effectivenessPrepare for the evolving threat landscape
• Proactively evaluate the effectiveness of risk- based information security strategy, the security
controls applied and the proper implementation of security technologies
• Apply corrective actions, remediation and lessons learned
Educate usersMake sure employees are educated on what to do when they receive emails from unknown senders
with suspicious attachments or links (see Appendix for recommended steps)

2. Protect data with technology best practices

With the growing number of threats, coupled with increasing sophistication of attacks, businesses need to clearly understand the cost tradeoffs of investing in cybersecurity and employee education, against loss of access to critical data and the resulting impact on your business and reputation.

According to Domain Tools, The 2019 Threat Hunting Report:
55% of respondents said detection of advanced threats (hidden, unknown and emerging) was a u003cbru003etop challenge for their security operations centers.

Network security is a good first line of defense in guarding against ransomware attacks. And by implementing effective technology best practices, organizations can further protect their data and IT infrastructure. Table 2 outlines key technology strategies to help eliminate the potential for infection by ransomware attacks.

Table 2: Technology best practices

FeatureIntegration
Detect and prevent Employ a multi-faceted security solution:
• Keep systems and software updated with relevant patches
• Protect against file-based threats (traditional antivirus), download protection, browser
protection, heuristic technologies, firewall and a community sourced file reputation
scoring system
Use external certification groups (computer emergency response teams) • Can often identify a problem before the virus infects companies
• Can make recommendations on immediate steps for manual filtering (software
companies may require hours or days to release a patch)
Identify and stop infectionDefine a comprehensive prevention and recovery readiness policy:
• Includes endpoint and network policies and protection products, such as antivirus,
antispyware, and firewall-type products
• Limits execution of unapproved programs on workstations
• Limits the write capabilities of end users so that, even if they download and run a
ransomware application, it is unable to encrypt files beyond the user’s specific files
• Include electronic records, physical media, and the availability of critical systems,
services, or devices
Keep a “gold” image of systems and configurations

A fundamental element of data management policies:
• Easily clone infected system with master
Maintain a comprehensive backup strategy

Prepare for the evolving threats:
• Proactively evaluate the effectiveness of risk-based information security strategy, the
security controls applied and the proper implementation of security technologies
• Apply corrective actions, remediation and lessons learned
Educate usersMake sure employees are educated on what to do when they receive emails
from unknown senders with suspicious attachments or links (see Appendix for
recommended steps)

3. Employ effective backup strategies

Recognize that a ransomware event is almost always a progressive hack. It works over time, and can run in the background while learning the behavior of your backup routines. As such, it is important to maintain a persistent copy of the data in other locations as part of your recovery readiness strategy and disaster recovery procedures.

Those companies that only rely on snapshots as backup are at a higher risk. When the snapshot or the other instance is replicated, the source is corrupted too — as it follows the replication. Having a preserved version of the data from prior recovery points in a protected location is a must

Using a cloud library is another alternative for a good external collection. Since the cloud backup is not visible to the local administrator operating system account, it would require additional sophistication to gain access to your cloud user credentials. And while no one loves tape, it may prove to be a better alternative for some businesses, as the online nature of disk or cloud is what exposes the persistent risk.

Table 3: Data protection best practices

StepsAction
Employ backup and
DR processes
• Directly call out a backup copy rather than versions stored on the same system
• Have external backup copies of the data beyond simple snapshots that are maintained on the source system

4. Educate employees to secure the endpoint

StepsAction
Train users to practice security best practices• Use a firewall
• Enforce a password policy
• Ensure that programs and users of the computer use the lowest level of privileges necessary to complete a task
• Disable AutoPlay
• Turn off file sharing if not needed
• Turn off and remove unnecessary services
• If a threat exploits one or more network services, disable or block access to those
services until a patch is applied
• Always keep your patch levels up to date
• Configure your email server to block or remove email that contains file attachments that are commonly used to spread threats
• Isolate compromised computers quickly to prevent threats from spreading further
• Train employees not to open attachments unless they are expecting them
• If Bluetooth is not required for mobile devices, it should be turned off

Refer to Symantec, security Best Practice recommendations, 2018 for complete details
Employ endpoint protection best practices

• Deploy URL-reputation plugins that display the reputation of websites from searches
• Restrict software to corporate-approved applications and avoid downloading software
from file sharing sites. Only download packages directly from trusted vendors’ websites
• Deploy two-step authentication on any website or app that offers it
• Ensure users have different passwords for every email account, applications and login –
especially for work-related sites and services

Conclusion

Securing critical business information is certainly a necessity for any organization. And guarding that information from ransomware attacks should be a top priority for any business. So protect that data by being attentive to security, technology, backup and employee best practices. As a result, your data will be secure and you’ll better ensure business continuity — while mitigating ransomware risk.

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