How Ransomware Works

A photo of a series of 1's and 0's with a picture of a lock and text which reads ransomware, How ransomware works

Everyone in a position of responsibility in the IT world is concerned about ransomware – and for good reason. But, have you ever thought about how ransomware works?

There are numerous instances of successful attacks, costing companies millions of dollars.

Ransomware attacks put businesses in a tough position – do you pay the ransom, and hope you’re given your data back? Or, do you take your chances and refuse to pay?

In some cases, the cybercriminals behind ransomware don’t just lock or steal your data – they make it public. Depending on your business and the data involved, this can cause more damage than mere financial extortion. It can create long-term impacts on a company’s customers, employees, and reputation.

Sadly, it’s often difficult to completely recover from a ransomware attack.

In fact, research indicates that 75% of companies would be out of business within a week of falling victim to a major attack.

Ransomware remains a continuing problem that any organization with potentially valuable data resources should take seriously.

Let’s take a closer look at how ransomware works, and why it’s so dangerous.

Steps in a Ransomware Attack

Defending yourself against any threat starts by understand it, first.

Developing an understanding of how ransomware works can help you prevent it from damaging your company.

Cybercriminals typically use the following methodical steps when perpetrating their attacks:

Identifying a target

Rather than attempting to randomly spread ransomware, cybercriminals prefer to focus their efforts on a previously identified and attractive target.

Here, the size of an organization rarely matters, although those with weak cybersecurity typically remain at highest risk.

If your company stores or processes sensitive, high-value data, you’re a potential target. This information can include items such as customer login/password information, bank account or credit card numbers, social security numbers, medical records, and much more.

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Delivery campaign

After identifying a potential victim, the ransomware must be delivered and downloaded to the victim’s infrastructure.

Usually, this occurs through social engineering or a phishing campaign.

When possible, criminals employ spear-phishing tactics. This strategy targets a specific individual (preferably someone with high-level system access) whose contact details have been obtained.

In this manner, criminals can customize their phishing attempts, creating methods extremely difficult to detect.

However, no matter the target, the goal always remains to entice an unsuspecting user into clicking a link, which then downloads the malicious code.

Infection and staging

After the code is downloaded, it’s considered to have infected your system. However, at this point, it might not be actively causing damage – yet. That part often comes later.

During the ‘staging’ phase, the malware embeds itself into your system, often making modifications that enable it to persist after a reboot.

The ransomware establishes communication with the cybercriminal’s command and control server at this point, and the attackers know they’re in business. It’s an elaborate process, but it’s all part of how ransomware works.

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Scanning and encryption

In this step, ransomware scans the accessible environment, identifying files to encrypt. Note that this also includes file shares and data stored in the cloud.

When encryption begins, it usually starts with local files, then proceeds to file shares and cloud data.

Here, it’s essential to quickly identify the source of the ransomware performing the encryption, so it can be contained with limited damage.

How ransomware works through extortion

Upon completion of file encryption, criminals can proceed with extortion. At this point, companies can expect to receive some sort of ransom message.

Generally, the message will provide details on obtaining the decryption keys necessary to regain access to your encrypted data. These details include a financial sum to pay (typically in cryptocurrency) that must be put into an account controlled by the criminals.

Here, it’s essential to quickly identify the source of the ransomware performing the encryption, so you can contain it with limited damage.

Final Thoughts & Next Steps

Now that you understand how ransomware works, you can see the best defense is to prevent it from getting into your infrastructure in the first place. Once it makes its way in, it’s often too late.

That demands reliable detection capabilities and viable response plans, which may be beyond the capabilities of your in-house IT team.

But, there’s never a reason you need to go it alone. Blue Bastion, along the support of our IT division, Ideal Integrations, can help provide your business with the security you need.

Blue Bastion offers managed detection and response programs that can be instrumental in helping you prevent an attack or address a worst-case scenario, should you suffer an incident.

Simply contact us at 412-349-6680, or fill out the form below, and our team of cybersecurity experts will create and execute the ultimate security plan to protect your organization.

And, as always, stay vigilant!

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