In the first half of 2021, 50% of enterprises globally were attacked by ransomware cybercriminals. One reason for this uptick was the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the number of people working remotely as workers were mandated to work from home. Despite robust security systems, attackers still bypassed some of these controls and held company data and IT assets for ransom. As a result, it is now more important than ever to have a rapid ransom recovery plan that quickly detects attackers and neutralizes their efforts.
So what do you do in the event of an attack and cannot retrieve your data? Do you pay the ransom? Is your data guaranteed restoration once you pay the ransom?
In this article, we answer these questions and explore the ransomware recovery process. Additionally, we examine some of the latest ransomware variants and how to prevent further attacks with ransomware data recovery tools.
What is a Ransomware Recovery Process?
Ransomware data recovery is the process of restoring a company’s data and access to IT assets after a cybercriminal has hijacked them. The attacker’s primary goal is to extort users for financial or non-monetary gain.
Ransomware data recovery involves developing a disaster recovery plan to tackle ransomware threats that gain a foothold in your company’s systems. Disaster recovery is more than restoring backups; it involves measures, policies, best practices, and precautionary steps to prevent another ransom attack.
A ransomware attack works through the following steps:
- Infection delivered through phishing, dwelling, or infected software
- The cybercriminals exchange secure keys by communicating with the command and control server
- File encryption – the ransomware encrypts files to lock the user out of accessing themselves
- Extortion – Once the attackers lock your files, they start demanding payment for you to regain access. Extortion is rarely in the form of cash wired to their accounts but via cryptocurrency, which offers anonymity.
Your recovery plan will only be effective if you keep your teams updated on identifying ransomware threats. Knowing the different ransomware used by bad actors helps you develop countermeasures to identify and neutralize them effectively.
Ransomware is a form of malware that hijacks and holds hostage a user’s device or database. The attacker demands a ransom for you to gain access to your data or computer. A ransomware threat tries to extort money or confidential information once it gains access to your IT systems.
Over the years, ransomware has grown to be a costly menace to organizations the world over. Companies have suffered tremendous financial loss and reputational damage at the hands of ransomware attackers.
To effectively recover your files from attackers, you need to understand the latest ransomware threats in the wild. Knowing what tools attackers use helps you develop appropriate defense and recovery tactics, which are needed for your ransomware recovery process:
This variant is an enterprise malware developed by the cybercrime outfit called WIZARD SPIDER. Ryuk uses spear-phishing methods to target c-suite staff to extort money or cryptocurrency from the organizations.
WannaCry targets systems that use older versions of operating systems because they don’t have the latest security patches. The ransomware duplicates itself and spreads across your IT network without affecting your computer’s boot configurations.
GandCab is a form of ransomware that targets Microsoft OS vulnerabilities. The malware operates as a Ransom-as-a-Service (RaaS) and works with affiliates who pay the developers a portion from their loot.
Cerber is a highly complex RaaS easily accessible to affiliates who use it to spread malware and extort users. The ransomware works, penetrating IT systems silently and encrypting files.
Reveton masquerades as a criminal investigations agency and targets victims with messages claiming the target has broken some law or possesses copyrighted information. They extort users by threatening to release sensitive information from their computers if they don’t pay a ransom.
Simplelocker targets android mobile devices and circulates through a Trojan downloader that impersonates a legitimate application. Once the Trojan downloads into a device, it encrypts files and collects sensitive data to extort the users into paying to regain access.
SamSam exploits remote access capabilities to steal personal information and credentials. The malware assumes admin privileges then downloads the ransomware into the system.
The ransomware types mentioned above target governments, healthcare services, schools, businesses, and NGOs.
Ransomware Attack Examples
Below is a compilation of the latest ransomware threats that have affected companies across the globe.
The ransomware attack shut down the school system that serves over 34,000 students for one week in March 2020. Additionally, cybercriminals shut down in-person and remote learning affecting the learning for thousands of students.
The National Health Service Executive shut down their IT systems due to a ransomware attack in 2021. Health services were significant targets, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An attack on health institutions could mean higher ransom payouts due to the urgency of services.
In May 2021, a successful attack on the Colonial Pipeline disrupted operations, causing a fuel shortage in significant parts of the US. As a result, the company had to shut down its operations even though the intrusion only affected its IT systems. The pipeline company eventually paid a ransom of $4.4 million to restore their operations. The specific ransomware variant involved was the DarkSide authors who extorted the money from Colonial Pipelines. The FBI intervened and helped recover some of the money.
One of the world’s largest beef manufacturers had to shut down its operations due to a ransomware attack. The company paid $11 million to protect its valuable data from publicity.
What should you do when you discover a successful ransomware attack? Follow these ransomware recovery steps to remove ransomware from your system:
Isolating a ransomware infection prevents it from spreading to the rest of your IT systems.
Disconnect infected devices from your network and disable maintenance configurations so they do not pick up the infected files.
Speed is paramount in isolating the attack to prevent company-wide damage. Some ransomware goes undetected for weeks or months. Make sure to scan all other devices to check if there is hidden malware.
Once you isolate the infection, identify the ransomware to determine the variant and what configurations the attackers used to access your systems and encrypt your files. Tools such as ID Ransomware can help you to establish the type of ransomware.
Most countries have Federal and Provincial cyber security agencies to whom you can report attack cases. Reporting provides these agencies with data to improve their investigations and to identify attackers. Users should also report ransomware to their company IT admin. Do not work on your computer or connect it to the company network.
Determine what options you have to recover your data and hardware functionality from the attacker. The best practice is not to pay ransom until you have exhausted all other options. This is where backups can play a considerable role in damage limitation. If you have backed up your files and applications, you could choose not to pay the ransom and restore the data from the last backup taken. However, if you have no alternatives, you may have to pay the attackers to regain access to your data.
5. Remove the Malware
One way to remove ransomware software is by reverse-engineering the malware to decode the encrypted files. However, this requires advanced knowledge and is not a feasible option for most companies. Ransomware is becoming more sophisticated, making it harder even for security professionals to decrypt the software. The best alternative is to wipe clean all your devices to start afresh. This involves deleting all files, including the operating system, applications and enterprise software, then reinstalling from the backup. Deletion is the safest way to secure your IT network after a ransomware attack.
Ransomware Recovery Process Steps
Once ransomware has been installed on your system, you won’t be able to use any files until you pay the ransom demand. These steps to remove ransomware will help guide you through removing this malware from your system and getting back control of your files:
If you had a backup, your first steps should be to restore all of the files from that backup and change any passwords that the ransomware changed. You may need an IT professional’s help with this step since many steps are often involved in restoring files from backups.
System Restore is a feature that allows you to reinstate your system’s previous state. For example, if the ransomware only affected certain files, you can revert those specific changes with System Restore and get back control of your computer. However, if this doesn’t work or System Restore hasn’t been enabled on your machine, keep reading for more steps to remove ransomware.
If System Restore doesn’t work, you can try using Windows File Versions to restore your files. This feature allows you to revert to one or more file versions if ransomware deletes the current version.
If you still can’t get your data back, you can try using data recovery software. These programs can help you recover your files and get back control of your computer, but they work best if you had recent backups on hand which were not affected by the ransomware.
Even if the steps above were unsuccessful and you cannot restore files from backups, there still may be hope. Some ransomware is not designed very well, and it can be cracked with ransomware decryption tools. However, this often requires a lot of time and effort, so make sure that this option is worth it before trying.
Finally, if the steps above were unsuccessful, it’s time to call for help. Contact a professional IT company like CG Technologies and have them remove ransomware from your system so that you can get back control of your files.
If you have been fortunate and dealt with the ransomware and restored company operations, the next course of action is preventing further attacks. How do you do this? By implementing a ransomware protection program. The aftermath of a ransomware infection should focus on securing your systems to prevent future attacks. Start by writing up a report on the attack to determine the company’s vulnerabilities.
Next, develop a response and recovery plan that includes policies, procedures, tools, and stakeholder education. Ransomware protection is an ongoing process that scales up as your company grows. Ensure to monitor your systems continuously so as not to miss any ransomware attempt.
Partner With Experts in Cybersecurity
Your Ransomware Recovery Process is important and so is keeping one step ahead of the continually evolving threat landscape. It is a full-time activity and requires specialist knowledge and skillset. Many smaller organizations do not have dedicated resources or a budget to hire security experts.
Relying on a trusted partner in cybersecurity is a proven, cost-effective alternative. CG Technologies have over 25 years of experience delivering exceptional services to hundreds of companies in the Greater Toronto Area.
Our managed cybersecurity services take care of your IT security needs allowing you to focus on your business’ growth. We’ve designed our security services and solutions around the problems and obstacles that face small to medium businesses every day. Download our whitepaper, the small business guide to ransomware protection or contact us to arrange a security assessment before a security breach or ransomware attack impacts your business.