Hundreds of millions of ransomware attacks occur across the globe every year. Unfortunately, it’s a growing problem that puts countless IT environments continually at risk. Thankfully, ransomware awareness training ensures your entire team is aware of the tricks, traps, and pitfalls of modern ransomware.
Ransomware is an Evolving Threat
Since ransomware is a topmost concern for most IT security teams, it should be included in all security awareness training programs. Although some industries are more susceptible to the nuances of ransomware than others, it can strike nearly any organization at any time.
While you can’t mitigate the threat completely, educating your staff and providing ransomware training for employees remains amongst the most effective strategies for avoiding this specific cyberattack.
- Distinguishing between ransomware and other threats
- Best practices for ransomware awareness training
- Top ransomware considerations
Beyond training, you can improve your organization’s cybersecurity program by partnering with an expert managed security services provider (MSSP).
Distinguishing Between Ransomware and Other Threats
Although ransomware is sometimes categorized with viruses and other types of malicious software, it’s a serious issue that deserves a class of its own. Start by introducing your staff to the concept of ransomware and how it differs from other cyberattacks.
Similar to how medical viruses attack the human body, computer viruses attack a system through self-replication. Thousands of computer viruses exist today, each with different effects and intentions. But traditional viruses are easily detected with updated antivirus software. As a result, they pose little threat to most modern IT networks and systems.
Also known as malicious software, this is a catchall term that often includes viruses and ransomware. However, typical malware isn’t self-replicating and doesn’t establish a ransom for the victim.
Unlike the common computer virus, malware does pose a significant threat to modern IT networks. Since it is an umbrella term and malware can be programmed in many different ways, it’s not always detectable without advanced IT security software. Anti-malware tools can help reduce the risk of malware infection, but, like ransomware, the best defense also incorporates awareness training and a knowledgeable workforce.
Ransomware works by encrypting or locking your entire system, or a portion thereof, to deny you access. Cybercriminals then demand a ransom in exchange for the release of your data. Unfortunately, case studies show that these files are often never decrypted or released to the victim—regardless of whether the ransom is paid.
Ransomware attacks targeting businesses and organizations often involve a data leak, too. This is usually done to:
- Prove the hacker’s role
- Demonstrate the data’s value and garner illicit interest from buyers
- Help coax the victim into paying
Depending on the nature of the data involved, a ransomware attack can be downright devastating to revenue and your organization’s public image.
Types of Ransomware
There are currently two separate types of ransomware. While there are countless variations on each, today’s ransomware attacks are classified into one of these two categories:
- Crypto – Crypto ransomware attempts to encrypt critical data on a certain hard drive, device, or server. These attacks can often be negated by maintaining up-to-date backups of your essential files.
- Locker – Locker ransomware prevents users from performing basic system functions while still allowing them to interact with the ransomware’s notification window and make the requested payment. This type can’t be solved by restoring data from your backup copies. Instead, you’ll need to completely reinstall and reconfigure your entire system or pay the demanded ransom.
Best Practices for Ransomware Awareness Training
Although the threat of ransomware is never fully eliminated, there are some organizational best practices and standards that apply universally:
- Educate your staff on the dangers of phishing and social engineering – These threats often serve as a point of entry for ransomware and other cyberattacks, so it’s essential to recognize the telltale signs.
- Begin documenting the incident as soon as possible – It’s critical to document any early warning signs, methods of attack, or evidence while it’s still fresh in your mind. This information is extremely helpful to the overall investigation and, if applicable, any legal proceedings.
- Control user rights and system privileges – Proper identity and access management goes a long way in controlling access to critical system resources, both internally and externally.
- Apply the latest software updates – Always download and install the latest software updates when they’re released, as these updates often patch holes and fix vulnerabilities that are exploitable by hackers.
- Test your IT security – Verify that your current IT security is working through penetration testing, traffic monitoring, and validation. For best results, try to use the same tools and utilities that hackers use when probing for vulnerabilities.
- Utilize network segmentation – Minimize the damage of a potential ransomware attack by splitting your organization’s network resources into different segments. If one zone or segment is attacked, the others might remain unaffected.
- Back up your critical files on a regular basis – In many cases, organizations can avoid paying the demanded ransom by restoring their files from their most recent backups.
Top Ransomware Considerations
Most cyberattacks include a triage phase that combines incident investigation, threat containment, eradication, and recovery. While this is applicable after suffering a ransomware attack, there are some unique considerations when ransomware is involved:
- Ransomware investigations – Perform a complete investigation across your entire system. Because dormant ransomware or malware can persist, even in areas that appear unaffected, it’s necessary to ensure complete eradication of the threat.
- Regulatory notification – Notify all key stakeholders, staff members, and affected consumers as soon as possible. Certain industry regulations, like HIPAA in the healthcare industry, require all ransomware attacks to be reported as security incidents.
- Legal concerns – There are also legal concerns following a ransomware attack. The state of New York, for example, is currently considering multiple bills that make it illegal for organizations to pay their requested ransoms. Always consult with a legal professional before making any critical decisions.
Recent Ransomware Case Studies
Given the increasing prevalence of attacks, there is no shortage of ransomware incidents in recent news. The varied nature of organizations affected, along with different ransomware variations, highlights the importance of security awareness training. To demonstrate the threat’s severity, use these real-world examples to illustrate how every organization, regardless of its industry or size, is susceptible to ransomware:
- CD Projekt – Based out of Poland, the popular video game manufacturer had some of their source code leaked online and employee devices encrypted following a ransomware attack. Instead of giving in to the hackers’ demands, the organization restored their critical files from backup copies.
- Colonial Pipeline – One of the most notable attacks in the history of ransomware, this effectively prompted the shutdown of an oil pipeline servicing areas from New Jersey to Texas. In this case, the encrypted data was restored after a ransom of $4.4 million was paid.
- JBS Foods – One of the largest meat processors in the world, JBS Foods suffered a ransomware attack in May 2021. The incident ended with the company paying the hackers approximately $11 million — one of the largest ransoms to be paid in any ransomware incident to date.
- Whirlpool – In late 2020, the popular appliance manufacturer fell victim to ransomware. The requested ransom was never paid, and the hackers ultimately posted sensitive corporate data—including personal details on staff members. Thankfully, consumer data wasn’t compromised in this attack.
Avoiding and Overcoming Ransomware
Ransomware is a growing concern in nearly every industry. While many attacks can be negated or overcome through hands-on ransomware awareness training, the threat is increasingly sophisticated and harder to detect.