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Celebrate National Cybersecurity Awareness Month By Learning to Protect Against Ransomware Attacks

It’s the season for pumpkin picking, leaves changing color, getting ready for Halloween parties and trick-or-treating. But ghosts and ghouls aren’t the only scary things you’ll be seeing this month: October is also National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a time when business leaders and government officials come together to increase public knowledge of the information security risks we all face, and give people resources to help them be safer online both at home and at work.

Many of the thrills—and chills—visitors to haunted houses enjoy are due to the element of surprise in their experience. Cybercriminals often make use of the same strategy, seeking victims who are unaware of potential threats, blind to vulnerabilities in their IT systems and environments, and shocked and horrified by cybersecurity attacks.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the case of ransomware, which is among the fast-growing cybersecurity threat types today. Though exact figures are hard to come by, Gartner estimates the ransomware attack rate has more than doubled since 2016, with over 16 million attacks taking place each quarter and more than 34,000 distinct ransomware variants for sale on the dark web. The FBI reports overall ransomware losses have dramatically increased, with attacks becoming more targeted, sophisticated, and likely to be successful.

Often, ransomware attacks are designed to create a sense of urgency in unprepared victims, including payment amounts that increase as time passes, or containing threats to destroy files or release sensitive data if demands aren’t met by a deadline. The criminal hackers hope that panicked victims, fearful of the consequences of loss of access to their files, will pay up quickly and in full.

As with many of today’s most prevalent cybersecurity threats, increasing employee awareness of ransomware risks can greatly decrease your organization’s vulnerability. Here are five key steps you can take to keep your business safe.

1.) Schedule security awareness training sessions regularly.

The most common strategy for delivering ransomware is by conducting phishing email campaigns, and the second-most common strategy is through drive-by downloads. Educational programs that teach employees how to identify suspicious emails and avoid clicking links to unknown websites can make your business far less vulnerable. A successful attack almost always relies on taking advantage of end user error to infiltrate your environment. The best security awareness training programs are engaging, informative, and backed by the very latest threat intelligence and research.

2.) Isolate backups from the rest of your network, and test your recovery procedures often.

In many cases, restoring critical data from backups is the fastest way to recover from a ransomware infection. For this to be a viable solution to the problem, however, your backups must be completed frequently enough that you won’t suffer crippling losses of business-critical data because the interval between snapshots was too long. The recovery process must also be quick enough that you can maintain essential operations. Needless to say, your backup storage must be logically segregated from the rest of your environment. Test your backup and restore procedures frequently to be sure recovery times are adequate.

3.) Keep all software up to date.

Several large-scale ransomware attacks have successfully targeted operating system or application vulnerabilities for which fixes had long been available, but the patches never installed. Don’t let this happen to your business: install all updates to software and device firmware as soon as possible after their release. Automated solutions supporting centralized patch management can simplify and streamline the process.

4.) Prevent lateral movement across the network.

Ransomware attacks spread by moving across IT environments from their initial point of compromise to other endpoint devices and servers. Security infrastructures designed according to the legacy default-allow paradigm—in which all traffic that has passed through a firewall or other gateway solution is deemed “safe”—make this lateral movement easy for attackers. Today’s most secure architectures are instead based on the zero trust model—in which no internal traffic is authorized without verification. It’s a far more effective approach to preventing ransomware’s spread.

5.) Secure all endpoints against malware.

Ransomware attacks are simply a type of malware attack, but many times their files aren’t detected by signature-based anti-virus software programs. Some strains are novel, meaning they haven’t yet been added to the database of known malware files that such software relies on, while others are designed to mimic the structure of a file not known to be malicious. True protection comes only with a solution that prevents all unknown files from executing, 100% of the time.

To learn more about the industry’s most advanced zero trust framework, designed to protect all endpoints across today’s heterogeneous and diverse technology environments, read more about the Dragon Platform.

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