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Concerned about ransomware? Check for these telltale signs of infection

The traits and patterns of ransomware attacks

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Ransomware and ransomware attacks are a scenario no individual or organization wants to face. The unfortunate reality is that ransomware breaches rise in both frequency and success. Therefore, it’s likely an enterprise will deal with a ransomware attack in some capacity in the future – if not already.

Once ransomware successfully infects a network, those impacted have few remaining options. The FBI and CISA do recommend paying demanded ransoms – but affected parties are limited in what they can do. Without backup options and versatile infrastructure, ransomware can dismantle services, steal data, and cost organizations millions in damage. The ideal strategy is to detect behaviors and prevent ransomware infection – or mitigate the impact it has.

In this article, we’ll briefly cover the warning signs of either a ransomware infection or patterns you may be targeted by a ransomware campaign.

Ransomware attacks are primarily the result of innate network weaknesses and fragile cybersecurity posture. Threat actors target networks that lack comprehensive visibility of their network, among things, and prefer vulnerable targets. Since most individuals and SMBs lack large-scale IT resources, they’re preferred targets.

How do you know if you have ransomware?

Ransomware operates in a clandestine manner, meaning it is not immediately obvious when a system network is infected with it. Unlike malware, which is an immediate infection, ransomware operates by encrypting system data after learning about a network. Threat actors will find an access point into a system and study it to locate privileged files and desired data. The process can be within hours, weeks, or even months.

Before this can occur, however, attackers require access to the network in question. Therefore, this reveals the intention pre-infection.

One of the earliest signs of ransomware attacks – or the intent to infect a system with ransomware – is via phishing. Social engineering is a dangerous strategy used in numerous cyberattacks, relying on human error to bypass security standards. If not already, you should familiarize yourself with the warning signs of phishing emails and text messages.

Post-breach

Assuming a user with network privileges clicked on a phishing link, hackers will have access to the network or system. This is a “post-breach” environment, although it does not mean threat actors will pursue action immediately. As mentioned, hackers monitor network activity and sniff out valuable data caches, preferably those housing customer data (if relevant), administrator privileges, and otherwise sensitive information.

In this phase, ransomware and threat activity are difficult to identify, and it’s one reason why monitoring tools are so important. There are symptoms of a potential ransomware infection or otherwise hacker activity on a compromised network.

Symptoms of Ransomware Attack

Monitoring tools and scrutiny of network assets often reveal key signs of a ransomware infection or future attack.

  • Disk activity increase – Ransomware is attempting or currently encrypting data on a system
  • Slower response and system performance – Performance degradation is a common symptom of malware and ransomware infection
  • New account generation – new accounts are randomly added to the business network with administrator privileges
  • New software – Unauthorized installation of new and unfamiliar software warrants concern, as this is used to perform threat-actor operations
  • Glitching performance and software – Backup systems, security software, and applications demonstrate unusual behavior implying hackers are tampering with files/software
  • Attempts or failed attempts to access administrator network zones

There is no guarantee these signs will be present, but they’re common symptoms, revealed with scrupulous monitoring. Ransomware attackers ideally want to steal or damage as many files as possible before initiating demand, which is why their process is not immediate in nature.  Using software monitoring suites and using penetration tests will reveal attempts to compromise a network through ransomware. 

Vulnerabilities

Fault lines in an SMBs IT infrastructure will lead to ransomware breaches. Inherent weaknesses, intended or not, must be accounted for. Otherwise, you run the risk of an intrusion event.

Unpatched software, apps, and/or operating systems are critical vulnerabilities exposing your network to criminal activity. These unpatched systems can contain inherent exploits or security weaknesses allowing intruders to otherwise bypass digital safeguards. Most mainstream software is updated on a constant basis, but if your organization uses network-facing software that no longer receives updates, it’s worth retiring the app(s) in question for a modern, safer equivalent.

Outdated or lack of monitoring tools also contributes to a weak cybersecurity posture. These are necessary to counter mainstream threats and are one of the key resources businesses need to identify ransomware-related activity.

Phishing and social engineering awareness must be taken into account as well. The ability – or lack thereof – to properly identify phishing schema is the critical difference between a successful or failed ransomware attack.

Budgetary concerns 

Ransomware costs individuals, networks, and businesses billions each year, but that isn’t the only financial concern regarding security costs. Budgetary limitations inhibit the ability of organizations to build comprehensive cybersecurity architecture and lack the assets to onboard IT experts. Essential tools, methods, and training to mitigate the damage caused by ransomware are absent, and another major weak point hackers take advantage of.

With those limitations in mind, ransomware also causes network downtime. This loss of service is expensive to rehabilitate, along with the necessary steps to perform data recovery and assess how the ransomware breach occurred.

Defending against ransomware

Protecting networks and business assets from ransomware is a necessity in the modern digital space. Addressing the symptoms and weaknesses associated with breach events is the most efficient way to prevent and mitigate intrusions.

If not already, SMBs and network managers need to consider strategies of education. Training staff on social engineering awareness reduces the chance phishing attempts are successful. Investing in practical monitoring tools that conduct sweeps for unusual activity can also catch ransomware campaigns before the encryption of sensitive material.

For architectural concerns, cloud and virtual infrastructure are potential options. Cloud storage and services are a versatile format allowing network managers to scale resources as needed. Cloud vendors also provide backup and recovery options, with network monitoring as a baked-in service. Virtual options also offer cost-conscious options for SMBs that cannot invest in new IT resources.

Ransomware is difficult to detect, prevent, and mitigate. However, it is not impossible, and with the appropriate checks and balances, most can avoid falling into ransomware-related traps.

If you are concerned about the dangers of ransomware and want to safeguard your personal data, reach out for help. You can contact Bytagig to learn more.

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