Ransomware is sophisticaed cyber attack and currently one of the biggest cybersecurity risks for businesses and organizations. Ransomware stops businesses from being able to properly function, unless a ransom is paid to the cyber-criminals who iniated the attack.
Ransomware has successfully been used to target large organizations, like the NHS in the UK, and multiple local governments and towns across the US.
In the past, sophisticated cyber-criminal groups developed ransomware, which could be a long and technical process. This meant often only lucrative organizations were targeted, with a high return on investment. However recently, ransomware has spread at a rapid pace due to the emergence of ‘ransomware-as-a-service.’
Now any cyber-criminal can buy a ransomware solution, start up a phishing campaign and cripple organizations and individuals without any technical skills. In this article we’ll cover what ransomware-as-a-service is, why it’s so damaging, and the steps your organization can take to protect itself.
How Does Ransomware Work?
Ransomware is a type of malware which encrypts your files and data, making them unusable unless a ransom is paid to the cyber-criminals who have the decryption keys.
Ransomware emerged as a threat in 2015, alongside the increased popularity of untrackable crypto-currency like bitcoin. By taking organizations’ data hostage until bitcoin payments were made, cyber-criminals could extort a lot of money, without being tracked.
Ransomware is normally spread through attacks like phishing. Attackers will send out emails to try and trick users into opening a malicious attachment or visiting a malicious website that would start a ransomware download.
Once ransomware infects a machine, all files and applications become encrypted. The speed of this process varies with different kinds of ransomware, but the process can be very quick. The virus will then attempt to spread to all other machines on the same network. For businesses, this can lead to multiple devices becoming compromised very quickly. This leads to all business activity being disrupted, or stopping entirely.
Cyber-criminals will then demand a ransom to be paid for the data to be unencrypted. As many businesses simply cannot function without critical data, they will be compelled to pay this ransom, although this is not recommeneded.
Why Is Ransomware Such A Major Issue?
Cyber-criminals exploit human error to spread ransomware. Phishing attacks trick users into downloading the viruses to their devices, and then afterwards the speed of the ransomware attacks can cause stress and anxiety. Businesses feel pressure to pay the ransom as quickly as possible in order to protect their business. In many cases, the ransomware even displays a countdown on user’s devices, warning that if the criminals are not paid in time, the data will be destroyed.
For many organizations, data and documents on computers are crucial for the day-to-day running of the business. After getting hit with ransomware, businesses can face the financial cost of lack of productivity, cost of buying new devices and reputational damage. That’s before considering the cost of the ransom itself. The average cost of a ransom demand has risen to $41,198.
What Is Ransomware-As-A-Service?
Ransomware-as-a-service is one of the ways that ransomware has grown to be one of the leading reasons for data breaches in a relatively short span of time. Ransomware is now being developed and coded by experienced, well-trained cyber-criminals, and licensed out on the dark web to less technical cyber-criminals who can easily use it to carry out mass cyber-attacks.
Ransomware-as-a-service allows criminals with little to no security training to carry out damaging attacks. These solutions are designed to be very easy to use by attacks, not requiring any coding skills. Some RaaS distributors even offer customer support! This means that ransomware is now in the hands of thousands of malicious cybercriminals and affects organizations of all sizes, not just large enterprises and governments.
In the first few years of ransomware, targets tended to be large businesses, government agencies, even cities, across the world. The attack on the NHS in the United Kingdom is an example of this. Developing ransomware is expensive and complex, so attackers chose lucrative targets to recoup their investments.
With the growth of RaaS, ransomware developers are able to make money by licensing their technology to other cyber-criminals. These criminals don’t need any technical knowledge, but can use ransomware to mass target thousands of organizations. Enterprises and large organizations are still being heavily hit by ransomware, but now smaller and mid-sized organizations are just as at risk.
For these reasons, RaaS has helped to drive the massive growth of ransomware attacks that we see at the moment. The average number of ransomware attacks is also increasing, now an average of $41,198 cost per attack.
Smaller targets in the transportation industry, managed service providers, healthcare and SMBs are being heavily affected by ransomware, according to Webroot’s latest threat report. These attacks won’t be as lucrative for attackers as larger organizations, but they are far more likely to be affected. Many SMBs will be less prepared for attacks, without dedicated security teams or security solutions in place.
What does this all mean for your organization? Your risk from ransomware attacks has increased, regardless of organization size or industry.
How To Stay Secure Against Ransomware-As-A-Service
Protecting your organization from ransomware doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. There are a range of solutions aimed at small and medium sized businesses, helping them to overcome the ransomware challenge without breaking the bank.
Ransomware attacks normally begin via a phishing attack. Cyber-criminals use fraudulent emails to trick users into visiting malicious webpages or downloading malicious attachments. Some of the best ways you can protect your organization against phishing and ransomware attacks include:
- Implementing robust endpoint protection to stop ransomware and other malware from affecting your devices. Many providers offer a ransomware ‘rollback’ feature to protect your organization.
- Using secure email gateways to block emails containing malware from reaching your employee’s inboxes. Read our guide to the top 11 email security gateways.
- Implementing phishing defences inside your email inbox to protect users from email fraud and phishing attacks.
- Installing web filtering and isolation technologies to stop malicious downloads.
- Training employees on how to recognize harmful emails and avoid malicious webpages with security awareness training and phishing simulation.
- Putting data back-up and recovery solutions in place so that data can be recovered in the case of a ransomware attacks.
Having these protections in place can massively help to reduce your organizations risk from ransomware attacks. If you’d like to find out more about how you can protect your organization from ransomware attacks, Expert Insights has put together a full guide to stopping ransomware, which you can read here.