Ultimate Guide to Ransomware: Tools & Best Practices in 2024
In March 2021, CNA Financial, one of the largest insurance companies in the US, paid a $40M ransom after a cyberattack blocked access to the company’s network and stole its data. It’s been estimated in 2020 that ransomware is the number one malware threat around the world, and its attacks had increased 59% in 2020 due to the spread of Covid-19 and the shift to remote work and cloud computing. However, advances in antivirus software and AI-enabled ransomware detection frameworks are helping businesses and individuals to overcome system vulnerabilities and better detect and avoid ransomware attacks.
In this article, we explore what ransomware is, how it works, which industries are affected by it, and how to protect yourself against it.
What is ransomware and how does it work?
Ransomware is a type of malware designed to target a user’s device or network, steal their data, and block their access to it until they pay a ransom to the attacker. There are mainly 2 types of ransomware:
- Locker: Locker ransomware blocks user’s access to their device’s basic functions such as the desktop, mouse, or keyboard, enabling the user only to react to the ransomware message to make the payment. Typically, locker ransomware does not target specific files or folders in the device.
- Crypto: Crypto ransomware targets documents or files on the device, encrypts them, denies user access to them, and typically threatens to destroy or publish the data if the ransom was not paid in a certain time. Crypto ransomware does not affect the way a user interacts with their device.
How is ransomware spread?
Ransomware spreads via:
- Phishing emails or messages: Phishing emails and messages are designed to lead the reader into revealing privileged information or to download malicious software or application to their device. Phishing emails are the most common delivery method of ransomware.
- Clickbait: Clickbait is a headline or thumbnail designed to encourage users to click on a certain link that will download the ransomware and attack the device. Common clickbait messages may include:
- “How To Get Rid of Coronavirus”
- “10 Ways To Make Money Faster”
- “5 Things You Can Accomplish Using These Tricks”
- Remote desktop protocol: Remote desktop protocol (RDP) is a Windows system protocol that enables a device to connect and control another device remotely over a network connection. Attackers can gain access to the system by:
- stealing passwords or login credentials
- exploiting RDP vulnerabilities such as BlueKeep
- tricking victims into allowing remote control (e.g. pretending to fix an internet connection and asking victims to enable remote control over their device)
Other methods to spread ransomware are by directly connecting the victim’s device to an infected device or USB and transferring the ransomware. In 2016, different people in Melbourne received ransomware-infected USBs in their mailboxes with a promotional offer from Netflix.
What are some of the famous ransomware attacks?
There has been an increase in the number of organizations attacked by ransomware attacks in the past 5 years, and ~1500 businesses have been attacked in the US in 2021 alone. Some of the most famous attacks are:
- REvil attack on Acer Inc: In 2021, the computer hardware manufacturer, Acer, were attacked by REvil, which gained access to Acer’s financial spreadsheets, bank balances, and bank communications via a Microsoft Exchange vulnerability. Attackers demanded $50M worth of Monero cryptocurrency as ransom.
- WannaCry worldwide attack: In 2017, WannaCry attacked ~300,000 Windows system users around the world via an exploit called EternalBlue which was patched by Microsoft before. Devices which had not applied the patch or were using older versions of Windows were vulnerable to the attack. Attackers demanded $800 worth of Bitcoin, from each user, which resulted in damage of ~$4B at the price of Bitcoin in 2017.
- Ryuk attack on US hospitals: In 2020, Ryuk attacked ~235 hospitals in the US via phishing emails containing malicious software which can encrypt EHR data. Ryuk collected ~$100M worth of Bitcoin as ransom in 2020, and continues to attack healthcare facilities during the spread of Covid-19.
According to a 2020 report, the overall amount paid by ransomware victims increased by ~311% in 2020 reaching ~$350M worth of cryptocurrency.
What are the best practices to detect and mitigate ransomware attacks?
Ransomware attacks target devices with limited protection and threaten to destroy important data, therefore, to prevent ransomware attacks and avoid the worst consequences, individuals and businesses need to follow best practices, which include:
- Backup the data using the 3-2-1 rule which states that you should have 3 copies of your data in 2 different places (e.g. cloud, device, USB) with 1 copy off-site for disasters.
- Conduct regular software updates to ensure the installment of the latest patches for system vulnerabilities. To automate software updates, businesses can leverage:
- Employ email filtering to detect phishing and scam emails. Businesses can leverage anti-spam solutions to scan email messages and files attached to the email for potential threats.
- Separate business networks according to department or tasks to avoid major data loss in case of a ransomware attack on a centralized point. Businesses can also use network security solutions that monitor network traffic and inform the IT team about any abnormal situations that require further investigation.
- Do not log in to sensitive accounts from shared networks such as public WiFi
- Employ cyberattack and ransomware detection and mitigation software such as:
What are the tools to detect and mitigate ransomware?
Ransomware detection tools
- Avast Antivirus
- Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool
- Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware Tool
- Cybersight RansomStopper
- Trend Micro RansomBuster
- Check Point ZoneAlarm
RPA bots can be used to increase cybersecurity by automating data enrichment and management, eliminating unauthorized access to privileged data, running cyber threat hunts and penetration tests, detecting viruses and malware threats, and automating system updates.
Workload automation tools
Workload automation (WLA) tools integrate scheduling and triggering capabilities to schedule, execute and monitor backend processes on different business platforms from a centralized point. WLA tools can be used to automate several processes which can affect the overall security of the system because they reduce human intervention and access to privileged data, create event logs of file transfers and loadings to generate audit trails, and detect and alert system errors to ensure system security. See our prioritized list of WLA tools to identify the right ones for your organization.
How can AI help in mitigating ransomware attacks?
Different AI algorithms can be used to detect ransomware attacks depending on the attack type, for example:
- Natural Language Processing algorithms (NLP): NLP can be leveraged for filtering phishing and spam emails because it can detect malicious or threatening language and classify messages and emails as spam or ham.
- Deep learning: Ransomware has different variants and families. Deep learning can be used to generate and train predictive models, such as recurrent neural networks (RNN) with long short term memory (LSTM), that can learn the behavior of ransomware and use this knowledge to detect evolving variants and families which have not yet been seen.
- Cybersecurity analytics: Cybersecurity analytics studies the digital trail left behind by cyber criminals to analyze system weaknesses, provide a holistic view of security considerations, and prevent losses in the future.
Further reading and security solutions
To explore different cybersecurity solutions, feel free to read our in-depth articles:
- Homomorphic Encryption: Benefits & Challenges
- Top 10 Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) & Use Cases
- Endpoint Security: What it is, Why it matters & Best Practices
To learn about cybersecurity statistics, feel free to check our data-driven list of 45+ stats about cybersecurity, market, attacks, and COVID-19 impact.
If you believe your business will benefit from a cybersecurity solution, scroll down our data-driven lists of solution providers for:
- RPA software
- Workload automation tools
- User And Entity Behavior Analytics Tools
- Network Access Control Solutions
- Click Fraud Software
And let us help you find the right solution for your business:
Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.
Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.
Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.
He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.
Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.
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