Why is Anti-Ransomware Important?
The indispensable nature of Anti-Ransomware is underscored by the rampant and devastating effects of successful ransomware attacks on businesses worldwide. These attacks are economically viable for attackers because they are continuously carried out with a sophistication that enables them to infiltrate organizations through a variety of ways, including web, email, and physical media, often bypassing standard, traditional security measures.
On average, a ransomware attack took 237 days to detect and 89 days to fully remediate (PDF). The annual impact from ransomware attacks in the US alone is estimated to be more than $20 billion dollars. Remediation costs following a ransomware attack average more than $4M per incident per each targeted organization.
This figure does not include additional incident response costs, peripheral costs, damage to operations, lost production from downed systems, lost revenue, damage to the brand, and other collateral damage:
- Intellectual Property and Regulated Data Loss: After an attacker successfully executes their attack, they do not simply deny access to your data – they will send that data outside of your network and threaten to leak it publicly. For many organizations this exposure of customer data can have regulatory implications and lead to lawsuits and fines. Additionally, sensitive data on corporate transactions, patents, etc. can end up in the attackers' hands and be sold to the highest bidder on dark web forums.
- Incident Response and Remediation Costs: The average incident response cost for a ransomware attack is currently $4.54 million, more than the average cost of a data breach at $4.35 million. While larger organizations can absorb these costs, this potentially represents an existential threat to companies that don’t operate at an enterprise scale.
- Peripheral Costs to the Business: The above figures does not include the ransom payment, the long-term damage to an organizations’ brand (loss of customer and market trust), increased cyber insurance premiums, legal fees, or lost revenue which can far exceed the remediation costs. This is why the focus of anti-ransomware needs to be on both prevention and resilience.
Moreover, paying a ransom demand is not guaranteed to result in data recovery. In fact, experts advise against paying ransoms, as it incentivizes the criminal enterprise and does not guarantee the safe return of your data.
What Makes an Anti-Ransomware Solution Different?
Anti-Ransomware solutions differentiate themselves through a targeted approach that addresses the unique challenges presented by ransomware attacks, which often involve encryption and hostage-taking of data.
These solutions combine advanced cryptographic methods and continuous updates to detection and decryption algorithms, ensuring the ability to counteract evolving ransomware threats while also ensuring minimized downtime and data loss through robust recovery mechanisms.
Other AI/ML-enabled endpoint protection models like NGAV, EDR, and XDR were trained on common characteristics that all malware share, while including some ransomware samples in the mix. But ransomware does not behave like other malware. Training AI/ML models on the few characteristics that ransomware does share with other malware leaves a huge gap for missed detections.
Conversely, an effective Anti-Ransomware solution leverages AI/ML models trained specifically on the characteristics all ransomware variants share to deliver more efficient and effective prevention, detection, and response against ransomware attacks at any stage.
Ransomware is highly dynamic and always evolving. Effective AI/ML models used in Anti-Ransomware are trained specifically on ransomware samples, a wide variety of strains, and trained on how ransomware behaves.
How Does an Anti Ransomware Platform Work?
In addition to providing the capability to prevent, detect and respond to a ransomware attack, the key to an effective Anti-Ransomware platform is that it should be designed with failure in mind.
This means that the solution should anticipate that, in some cases, it can and will fail to detect and prevent a ransomware attack from being successful. In the rare event that a ransomware payload slips by an Anti-Ransomware platform’s detection engines, the solution should provide recovery capabilities that include encryption key and key material capture, as well as the ability to autonomously reverse the impact of the attack and restore devices, systems, and data quickly and efficiently which helps avoid continued disruption to operations.
Effective Anti-Ransomware solutions should include multiple layers of protection including prevention, detection, and response, including:
- Pre-Execution Prevention: The pre-execution layer should leverage AI/ML engines to detect and block any known bad and commodity ransomware variants before they can execute on the targeted device. This should include the ability to detect polymorphic and repacked variants that typically evade traditional endpoint protection solutions.
- Exploitation of Features: Ransomware code typically includes system rules and anti-analysis capabilities.This can include rules that cause the attack to abort if it detects a Cyrrilic keyboard for example, or detects that it is in a sandboxed environment. An effective Anti-Ransomware solution can “trick the ransomware” into aborting or revealing the attack by exploiting these hardcoded features via deception techniques that then prevent payload detonation.
- Advanced Behavior Detections: An effective Anti-Ransomware solution should offer further protections by detecting behaviors specific to ransomware attacks - including data exfiltration, system deconfliction checks, or upon initiating core functions - then block these behaviors and any subsequent commands.
- Endpoint and Network Resiliency: An effective Anti-Ransomware solution should offer automated host isolation capabilities that prevent any ransomware from spreading to other endpoints as well as deliver automated encryption key capture and decryption of any impacted assets, effectively automating organization resiliency.
What are the Critical Benefits of These Anti-Ransomware Features?
Anti-Ransomware enables companies to maintain operations even in the event of an attack by ensuring rapid data recovery and system restoration. This is crucial for preventing financial loss and preserving the reputation of the organization amidst cybersecurity incidents.
Data Integrity and Availability
Protecting against data manipulation and ensuring the recovered data remains authentic and unaltered is another pivotal benefit. This encompasses protecting data backups from ransomware attacks and ensuring they can be reliably utilized for recovery purposes, which safeguards the integrity and availability of organizational data even during a ransomware incident.
Reduction of Downtime
Through utilizing swift detection, isolation, and mitigation strategies, anti-ransomware solutions ensure that the downtime experienced during an attack is minimized, allowing organizations to return to operational status more rapidly than they would be able to otherwise.
While a ransomware attack can lead to substantial financial demands in the form of ransom, anti-ransomware prevents such scenarios, saving organizations from potential financial pitfalls and the hidden costs associated with data loss, system downtime, and reputational damage.
Ensuring that the organization adheres to data protection regulations and standards, the anti-ransomware solutions help in maintaining compliance by safeguarding data and providing necessary reporting capabilities for any potential breaches.
Why is Ransomware So Successful?
1. Technological Evolution
Ransomware has become increasingly successful due to the continuous evolution of technology. In this section, we will explore the technological factors that contribute to the success of ransomware attacks:
1.1. Encryption Advancements
Ransomware operators leverage sophisticated encryption techniques, making it extremely difficult for victims to decrypt their data without the decryption key. The use of strong encryption ensures that even if security experts and law enforcement agencies get involved, recovering the data can be a formidable challenge.
1.2. Vulnerability Exploitation
Ransomware often takes advantage of software vulnerabilities, including those in operating systems and software applications. These vulnerabilities are continuously discovered and exploited, allowing attackers to gain access to systems and deploy ransomware payloads.
1.3. Automation and Scale
The automation of ransomware attacks allows cybercriminals to target a large number of victims simultaneously. Automated tools can scan the web for vulnerable systems and execute attacks at a scale that was previously unattainable. This scalability increases their chances of success.
2. Social Engineering & Psychological Manipulation
Successful ransomware attacks often involve manipulating human psychology and exploiting social engineering techniques. In this section, we explore the psychological aspects that contribute to ransomware's success:
2.1. Phishing Attacks
Ransomware operators commonly use phishing emails to deceive users into clicking on malicious links or downloading infected attachments. These emails are crafted to appear legitimate and exploit human curiosity or urgency, leading victims to inadvertently initiate the infection.
2.2. Fear and Urgency
Victims are coerced into paying a ransom by a sense of fear and urgency in order to regain access to their data, or prevent the release of private, sensitive information. Ransomware often creates this fear and urgency by using threatening messaging or displaying countdown timers.
2.3. Trust Exploitation
Some ransomware attacks impersonate trusted entities, such as law enforcement, or well-known organizations, or individuals. Victims may be more likely to comply with demands when they believe they are dealing with a reputable source.
3. Anonymity and Impunity of Ransomware Operators
Ransomware operators work in a relatively anonymous and low-risk environment, which greatly contributes to their success. Let’s focus on the factors that enable cybercriminals to act with impunity:
3.1. Adoptions and Use of Cryptocurrencies
Ransom payments are typically demanded in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which offer a high degree of anonymity. This makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace and apprehend the perpetrators.
3.2. Decentralized Infrastructure
Ransomware operations often rely on decentralized infrastructure, such as Tor networks, to hide their tracks. These networks provide a layer of anonymity that hinders efforts to locate and identify the operators.
3.3. Jurisdictional Challenges
Ransomware campaigns are often launched from jurisdictions that have lax cybersecurity regulations or are uncooperative in international investigations. This complicates efforts to bring the perpetrators to any kind of justice.
The success and proliferation of ransomware can be attributed to a combination of technological advancements, psychological manipulation, and the anonymity and impunity enjoyed by its operators. Understanding these factors is crucial for developing effective strategies to prevent and combat this growing cyber threat.
Why Are Legacy Solutions Not Stopping Ransomware?
Let’s explore some of the critical limitations and inefficacies of current legacy solutions:
The most basic is a software-based firewall software for endpoint devices, which is designed to regulate traffic to the endpoint it is installed on and prevent malicious interactions and some unauthorized installations. Firewalls, while important, are easy to bypass and have limited utility, so organizations should deploy a traditional (AV) or next-generation antivirus (NGAV) alongside.
Traditional Antivirus (AV)
If kept up-to-date and continuously running, traditional signature-based AV will protect an endpoint from infection by most known malware. The problem is they are simply unable to detect and block novel or modified versions – such as if the malware has been repacked – until a human manually creates and writes a new detection signature that is pushed out to the endpoints as an update.
AV is also extremely resource heavy – not just to produce new signatures and keep devices updated – it also requires a lot of endpoint resource consumption as new signatures are downloaded and the device is rescanned daily. Scans are time consuming because they essentially have to look for every single piece of malware every single time. Realistically that is not possible, so they stop looking for older malware versions, attackers often resurrect them, and AV misses the detection. This is where NGAV comes into play.
Next-Gen Antivirus (NGAV)
NGAV solutions usually employ Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) for detections based on the pre-execution characteristics of the code. This means they do a decent job of recognizing and blocking novel and altered malware strains that traditional AV may miss and new detections are not constrained by the manual process of signature development.
NGAV has its limitations, often missing some unique malware variants and producing a high volume of false positives. The inability to prevent 100% of malware – in addition to the introduction of living-off-the-land, fileless, and other advanced attack techniques – prompted the advent of Endpoint Detection and Response and its more comprehensive cousin Extended Detection and Response.
Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)
EDR delivered the ability to leverage AI/ML algorithms to analyze behaviors on the network to identify malicious operations in progress. It also enabled security teams to proactively hunt threats in their environments for more subtle indicators of compromise that can expose an attack at earlier stages.
EDR changed the entire security landscape for the better, but also has its limitations. First, the AI/ML models are tremendously complex and take years to train, and the detections are only as good as the samples they were trained on. Also, EDR only provides acute visibility into what is happening on the endpoint, with limited visibility of the other network components aside from how they interact with those devices.
Extended Detection and Response (XDR)
XDR solutions on the other hand, were designed as a logical extension of EDR with the benefit of correlating behavioral telemetry from other parts of the network. In this way, security teams can see not just what is happening on the endpoint, but also how that behavior is possibly related to user identity and authentication, or assets in the cloud, and across the entire IT and security stack.
XDR, while promising, still suffers from the same issues as other EPP tools: they are susceptible to bypassing and unhooking, they are difficult to configure and manage properly, and they usually have a high false positive rate – all of which means additional strain on already maxed-out security teams.
They also are dependent on complex AI/ML behavior detection models that take years to create, so they are not as agile when it comes to updates, as threat actor TTPs evolve. It is a tremendous lift to introduce a new model into production in client environments, and a small flaw in the training data for the model can mean big problems for its efficacy.
These legacy solutions may demonstrate inefficacy for several reasons like:
- Reactive Dispositions – Many legacy systems respond to threats after they’ve infiltrated the system, which is often too late in the case of ransomware.
- Inadequate Holistic Defense – While effective against conventional malware, these solutions might lack the comprehensive, multifaceted strategy needed to counteract ransomware, which doesn’t just involve malware defense but also addresses data integrity, business continuity, and cyber forensics.
- Operational Friction – The often-complex management and upkeep of legacy systems can interfere with organizational functionality and user experience, causing disruptions and potential security gaps.
- Fragmented Solutions – Legacy solutions might be feature-rich but can also introduce complexity, offering attackers more vectors for exploitation through possible misconfigurations and oversights.
Ever-evolving and adapting ransomware campaigns exploit the weaknesses and gaps left by legacy solutions, demanding a more focused, specialized, and multi-layered approach to cybersecurity. This is where an advanced, specialized Anti-Ransomware platform comes in.
The contrast between the focused, robust approach of ransomware and the sometimes slow, complex defensive mechanisms of legacy solutions highlights the need for the evolution of our cyber defense strategies. This involves a detailed understanding and anticipation of attacker TTPs, using these insights to strengthen cybersecurity initiatives, dynamically and proactively.
What should a Business Look for in an Anti Ransomware Solution?
When selecting an anti-ransomware solution to protect your organization, there are several key factors to consider to ensure you have effective protection against ransomware attacks:
1. Prevention: An anti-ransomware solution will work to stop an attack pre-execution, by using proprietary ML/AI models enriched by third party and exclusive data sources focused on all ransomware variants. This allows them to do suspicion scoring and tracking.
2. Behavioral Prevention and Detection: Look for a solution that employs behavior-based detection techniques to identify ransomware activity. This involves monitoring for unusual or suspicious behavior in your systems, rather than solely relying on signature-based detection, which may not catch new or evolving ransomware strains.
3. Real-Time Monitoring and Alerts: The solution should offer real-time monitoring of your network and systems, providing immediate alerts when it detects ransomware or suspicious activities. Quick detection can help you take action before ransomware has a chance to spread and encrypt your data.
4. Endpoint Security: Your anti-ransomware solution should cover all endpoints, including desktops, laptops, and servers. This ensures comprehensive protection across your organization. Protecting individual endpoints with security software that can detect ransomware behavior can prevent initial compromise and subsequent data exfiltration.
5. File + Data Encryption Recovery: A good anti-ransomware solution offers file and data encryption protection and recovery, to protect sensitive information from being accessed or stolen by attackers. This can be an additional layer of defense. Especially when files do get encrypted and key capture, or key material recovery is necessary.
6. Data-Exfiltration Prevention: Also known as Anti-Data Exfil (ADX), this prevents or mitigates the unauthorized transfer of sensitive and/or valuable data from an organization's network before or during an attack. Ransomware operators recently turned to exfiltrating victim's data and threatening to expose it publicly or sell it for a premium. Solutions purpose-built for ransomware include features that can prevent data encryption and exfiltration.
7. Automatic Updates and Patch Management: Ensure the solution is regularly updated to stay current with the latest ransomware threats. It should also help manage software and system patches to address vulnerabilities that ransomware can exploit.
8. Centralized Management: Consider solutions that provide a centralized management console, or Agent, allowing your IT and Security team to easily monitor and manage security policies across your organization.
9. Scalability: Ensure the solution can scale with your business as it grows. You want a solution that can adapt to your changing needs and protect an increasing number of endpoints.
By carefully considering these factors, you can choose an anti-ransomware software that best fits your business's security requirements and helps protect your data and operations from the threat of ransomware.
The rise of Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) gangs mimics the more conventional Software as a Service business model in every meaningful measure. The ransomware economy involves multiple players who specialize in various aspects of the larger ransomware attack. These elements include: