The old business rule is: when something works, do more of it. By that measure ransomware is clearly working. One indication is the number of new domains popping up which are associated with ransomware attacks. According to an Infoblox research report (and they provide DNS services, so they should know), there was a 35x increase in ransomware domains in Q1.
You have also seen the reports of businesses getting popped when an unsuspecting employee falls prey to a ransomware attack; the ransomware is smart enough to find a file share and encrypt all those files too. And even when an organization pays, the fraudster is unlikely to just give them the key and go away.
This is resulting in real losses to organizations – the FBI says organizations lost over $200 million in Q1 2016. Even if that number is inflated, it’s a real business, so you will see a lot more of it. The attackers follow Mr. Market’s lead, and clearly the ‘market’ loves ransomware right now.
So what can you do? Besides continue to train employees not to click stuff? An article at NetworkWorld claims to have the answer for how to deal with ransomware. They mention strategies for trying to recover faster via “regular and consistent backups along with tested and verified restores.” This is pretty important – just be aware that you may be backing up encrypted files, so make sure you have backups from far enough back that you can recover the files before the attack. This is obvious in retrospect, but backup/recovery is a good practice regardless of whether you are trying to deal with malware, ransomware, or hardware failure that puts data at risk.
Their other suggested defense is to prevent the infection. The article’s prescribed approach is application whitelisting (AWL). We are fans of AWL in specific use cases – here the ransomware wouldn’t be allowed to run on devices, because it’s not authorized. Of course the deployment issues with AWL, given how it can impact user experience, are well known. Though we do find whitelisting appropriate for devices that don’t change frequently or which hold particularly valuable information, so long as you can deal with the user resistance.
They don’t mention other endpoint protection solutions, such as isolation on endpoint devices. We have discussed the various advanced endpoint defense strategies, and will be updating that research over the next couple of months. Adding to the confusion, every endpoint defense vendor seems to be shipping a ‘ransomware’ solution… which is really just their old stuff, rebranded.
So what’s the bottom line? If you have an employee who falls prey to ransomware, you are going to lose data. The question is: How much? With advanced prevention technologies deployed, you may stop some of the attacks. With a solid backup strategy, you may minimize the amount of data you lose. But you won’t escape unscathed.