The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives in more ways than one. In addition to drastically changing the way social interactions are conducted and how restaurants, shops, and other establishments operate, it has led traditional office-based businesses to adopt work at home schemes for the majority of their employees.
For the most part, this new status quo has enabled these businesses to maintain operations with some degree of normalcy. There are, however, unforeseen consequences to this solution: chief among them is an increased vulnerability to cyberattacks. Among the most common of these are ransomware attacks.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a form of software that earned its name by encrypting a victim’s files, thus enabling its handler to demand a ransom from said victim in exchange for the key that releases the encryption. Such victims often undergo immense pressure to cave into demands because the encrypted files are critical for the continuous functioning of business operations.
Ransomware is usually introduced into a network through phishing. This is a technique that involves the attacker tricking the victim into willingly opening a file or following a link, creating a pathway for the software. Often, these are delivered via emails from the attacker in which they falsely claim to be another entity entirely, such as law enforcement or regulatory agencies. Even more aggressive forms of ransomware exploit gaps in a system’s security and are not dependent on unwitting assistance from the victim or their representatives.
Why does working from home make us more vulnerable to ransomware?
Simply put, having employees work from home means that the time they spend working online is increased. Even work activities such as meetings or the dissemination of information, which might otherwise be done face to face or using office resources, are relegated to internet-based applications and platforms. This heightened online presence increases vulnerability to phishing attacks.
Furthermore, the proliferation of Remote Desktop Protocols (RDPs) that enable employees to connect to company systems from their homes are potential security liabilities, providing avenues for ransomware to infiltrate said systems.
How can ransomware attacks be identified?
Luckily, there are signs that can give away upcoming ransomware attacks. The ability to identify and react to such signs could be the difference between an attempted ransomware attack and a successful one. We at F1 Solutions have compiled some red flags to keep an eye out for.
Openings in security
The first sign that a ransomware attack is around the corner are openings in a security system. Much like an unlocked door in a house, the existence of a way in for attackers is the earliest and most actionable sign to keep an eye out for. Attackers often wait weeks or longer after gaining access into a system before enacting the attack in full, spending this time exploring the environment and putting measures into place. Thus, the presence of openings is as good a warning sign as any hard evidence to investigate thoroughly. It’s prudent that all the RDPs on a system be identified, and measures taken to ensure that they’re protected by two-factor authentication, or have them be behind a VPN.
The appearance of unexpected software tools
One of the signs of an unwanted presence within a network is the sudden appearance of software tools that are otherwise not utilized by your team. During their preparation phase, ransomware attackers will utilize a slate of tools to serve different purposes. For example, after infiltrating a single PC through a phishing email, they are likely to scan the network for other openings to exploit, utilizing programs such as Advanced Port Scanner or AngryIP. Others, such as MimiKatz and Microsoft Process Explorer, are favorites when it comes to stealing passwords and login details. Any suspicious applications need to be verified as originating within your organization and used for its processes.
Unverified administrator accounts
The next step for attackers is often to increase their reach and power within the system by creating administrator accounts. The authority of these accounts is subsequently used to disable even more security measures. Thus, it’s important to keep an eye out for any accounts, especially high-clearance ones, that originated from outside the internal account management or ticketing system.
Corrupted backups and crippled software
Another sign to look out for is evidence of said tampering. As they prepare to ramp up their attack, ransomware criminals will often corrupt backups of important data, increasing the likelihood that paying the ransom is the only recourse that will be left to their victims. Likewise, security programs and other software that push patches and updates will be frozen and disabled. These are indications that a full-scale ransom attack is imminent.
Encryption of selected devices
Before encrypting their final targets, ransomware attackers may test the encryption on select devices. This is the final giveaway before the full-scale attack, and even the attackers themselves will feel that this shows their hand and leaves them a limited amount of time to complete the attack. Thus, it’s important to act swiftly if this sign is ever encountered.
Ransomware attacks are on the rise, but with the help of F1 Solutions, your business isn’t without recourse. Reach out now to learn how to react to the threat of ransomware attacks if any of these signs are identified within your system.