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11/8/2016
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Ransomware Doesn’t Have To Mean Game Over

3 methods can help you recover from a ransomware attack relatively unscathed.

It’s not difficult to wrap your brain around how ransomware could do serious damage to businesses. But how exactly do CISOs and other security executives deal with the infection and its aftermath? New technologies are popping up all the time that combat ransomware; however, most (if not all) require active protection before you get infected.

This article aims to help those who’ve already been hit with encrypting ransomware and are faced with either paying or losing files. Let’s look at three different ransomware infection scenarios and how business leaders can attempt to walk away relatively unscathed.

Prepared

Our first security executive -- the prepared one -- keeps her system up-to-date, uses security software, and provides employee training on cybersecurity best practices. Unfortunately, one of her employees visited a popular website that was dealing with a malicious advertising attack. The attack launched a zero-day, drive-by exploit, which installed a brand new family of ransomware that encrypted the customer database.

How did a prepared security executive handle this type of attack? Thankfully, she had the foresight to keep regular backups, which means that after the infection, all she had to do was clean the system using recently updated security software and then restore the backup. Only a day’s worth of data was lost.

Backing up files securely is one of the best ways to prepare your system to deal with a ransomware infection. However, you should keep file history enabled in your backup solution so that you can revert to a previous backup in case the most recent gets polluted with encrypted data. Also, use off-site and/or cloud backups rather than storing everything on a network drive, since many ransomware families are capable of reaching through mapped connections to encrypt files outside the victim’s hard drive.

Reactionary

Our next leader thinks that only gullible people get infected with malware, and that by avoiding obvious bad places, he can protect his business from a threat. One day, an employee received an invoice from a local vendor with a spoofed email address, and the invoice is actually a script that neuters security software and downloads malware. Suddenly, that employee was infected, and all mapped drives were encrypted.

Many believe that once you’ve been hit with ransomware, your files are encrypted and there is nothing you can do about it. However, thanks to the diligent efforts of our information security community, there are actually many decryptors available online. This software, when matched with the correct ransomware family, can decrypt files for free.

In order to identify the family of ransomware you are dealing with, you can look closely at the ransom note -- it often tells you itself. And when the note doesn’t say, you can look at the extension name of your encrypted files.

Ignorant

Our final leader just doesn’t know enough about computers. He has a few terminals set up in his shop that use trial security software. Unfortunately, one of his employees downloaded a malicious torrent online. Now, all of the networked systems in the shop are encrypted, including a folder that keeps all his trade secrets. 

Since our leader didn’t create regular backups and doesn’t know how to use decryptor tools, he’ll need to think about negotiating with the criminals. Rather than pay the full ransom, he can pay a smaller amount by identifying a particular set of files he needs more than others. Historically, attackers have been open to negotiating and returning a few files for a smaller ransom.

To be absolutely clear, I do not endorse paying the ransom. However, it has to be understood that for some folks, the loss of files would be far more damaging than just paying the ransom.

Conclusion 

So there you have it -- three methods that can help you recover from a ransomware attack. They might not be absolute solutions, but anything is better than losing valuable data to cybercriminals. Maybe knowing how disappointing the recovery methods are will motivate people to use proactive anti-ransomware technology, which remains the best option for fighting ransomware infection -- not allowing the malware to encrypt your files in the first place.

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