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Fortify Your Ransomware Defense Strategy: A Proven Framework

If you’re wondering if your organization’s ransomware defense strategy is as strong as it could be, you’re not alone. Ransomware has emerged as one of the top cybersecurity threats of 2024, impacting nearly three-quarters of organizations last year with an average cost of $4.45 million.i According to Verizon, about a third of the 30,000 cyber-attacks they analyzed involved ransomware and extortion techniques.ii The top motivation? Financial gain.

Ransomware has existed in one form or another since the late 1980s when the AIDS Trojan hit the healthcare industry. Since then, ransomware has continued to evolve in sophistication as new technologies emerge. Today’s cybercriminals frequently employ advanced social engineering and phishing campaigns. They exploit vulnerabilities in remote access tools, often spending weeks inside networks before deploying ransomware.

The advent of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin was a boon to cybercriminals, facilitating ransom payments while offering attackers a degree of anonymity and further complicating law enforcement efforts. Then, in early 2020, the acceleration of remote work expanded the attack surface, sparking a surge in ransomware attacks targeting critical infrastructure, healthcare systems, educational institutions, and supply chains.

Meanwhile, the way that bad actors operate has morphed as well. The rise of ransomware-as-a-service has democratized access to sophisticated tools for the less technically proficient. Cybercriminals increasingly band together into ransomware cartels like the notorious Scattered Spider gang, comprised mainly of US and UK teens and hackers seeking financial gain.

Ransomware Defense Strategy: A Proven, 5-Part Framework

Organizations must prioritize a comprehensive ransomware defense strategy to help prevent ransomware attacks. GDT has developed a five-part ransomware defense strategy framework that we leverage to help companies address the growing ransomware threat while also maturing their overall security posture. This section provides an overview of each component in that framework.

1. Ransomware Resiliency Workshops 

Assessing your organization’s overall cyber resilience, including strengths and vulnerabilities, is essential in building a holistic ransomware defense strategy. Combine the following strategies to help identify and prioritize threats to your business.

  • Threat Intelligence Briefings for Your Industry
    Know thy enemy. It’s essential to seek out threat intelligence briefings relevant to your industry that take an in-depth look at your industry’s unique challenges while also providing trends and insights for mitigating threats. For example, Trustwave releases threat briefings for industries like technology, healthcare, and manufacturing.
  • Attack Surface Management (ASM) Reviews
    An ASM review involves identifying, assessing, and mitigating the vulnerabilities across your organization’s digital footprint, including hardware, software, network infrastructure, and even human factors. This comprehensive review identifies potential attacker entry points. It’s a critical tool that can help you prioritize risks, improve incident response, enhance employee awareness, and help you integrate and optimize existing security tools and measures to improve your overall strategy.
  • Email Security Strategies and Review
    Email is one of the primary vectors through which ransomware attacks are initiated. Take time to evaluate email security strategies. Look at areas like email security, filter and quarantine methods for preventing infection, employee education programs, authentication practices, and compliance with security policies.
  • Best Practice Posture Assessments
    Reviewing your organization’s procedures, methods, and practices provides a starting point for ensuring your organization has a systematic approach to identifying vulnerabilities that could be exploited by ransomware, prioritizing risks, and benchmarking against industry standards.
  • Ransomware Defense validation
    Finally, validation testing can help your organization simulate various attack scenarios to assess your organization’s resilience, identify vulnerabilities, and train staff in identification and response techniques.

2. Ransomware Protection

Organizations must enact processes and policies to guard against ransomware attacks. Here at GDT, when we’re helping an organization improve ransomware protection, we focus on these core components.

  • Patch and Vulnerability Management Reviews
    Regular patch and vulnerability management reviews play an essential role in identifying vulnerabilities, prioritizing risks, ensuring timely patches and updates, and ultimately reducing the attack surface. 
  • Data Protection Assessments
    This involves evaluating current data protection strategies and working with organizations to provide a custom approach and roadmap to data protection.
  • Identity Access Management (IAM) Maturity
    IAM maturity contributes to ransomware protection by providing a comprehensive framework for managing and securing digital identities. For example, implementing role-based access control helps ensure users can access necessary resources for their roles. Implementing multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security. Regular IAM reviews ensure unnecessary permissions get revoked promptly while also contributing to maturing an organization’s security posture.
  • Micro-segmentation
    Micro-segmentation comprises a critical component of a zero-trust security model. Segmenting a network into smaller, isolated parts—each with its own security protocols—helps protect other parts of a network by containing a ransomware attack, preventing its spread to different parts of the network, and limiting its impact. It also enforces granular access controls, reducing the attack surface. Other benefits include enhanced monitoring and detection, rapid isolation and response, and increased regulatory compliance.
  • Governance Framework Models and Compliance
    Speaking of compliance, government framework models and compliance provide a structured approach to ensuring adherence to compliance best practices. These models protect organizations against ransomware attacks by establishing policies, controls, and procedures to increase resilience and lower risk.

3. Ransomware Detection 

Ransomware attacks continue to grow in sophistication. A robust detection solution that leverages technologies like AI and machine learning is a vital part of any ransomware defense strategy. We focus on these areas.

  • Managed Detection & Response (MDR) / Extended Detection & Response (XDR) 
    MDR and XDR services provide organizations with advanced detection and incident response capabilities, combining AI and other technologies with human expertise. Capabilities include continuous network monitoring, proactive cyber threat hunting, rapid response to contain threats, and root-cause analysis with an eye toward prevention.
  • Inspection Strategies and Network Security Infrastructure
    Organizations can further enhance ransomware detection and overall security posture by layering inspection strategies with a more robust network security infrastructure. Inspection strategies can include signature-based detection and behavioral analysis to detect anomalies. Network security infrastructure strategies include network traffic analysis, intrusion detection, file integrity monitoring, and network segmentation. 
  • Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Services
    CSPM automates identifying and mitigating misconfigurations and security risks across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. These services may include continuous, real-time monitoring of cloud resources, detecting misconfigurations, providing automated mitigation recommendations, risk and compliance monitoring, and DevOps integration.
  • Dark Web Monitoring 
    Dark Web monitoring focuses on the hidden online marketplace where cybercriminals buy and sell stolen and leaked information. It scans for indicators of compromise to support early threat detection and delivers threat intelligence to mitigate or prevent ransomware attacks. Additional benefits include identifying emerging threats and targeted attacks and prompt identification when sensitive information falls into the wrong hands. 

4. Ransomware Remediation and Response

While robust ransomware identification, prevention, and detection strategies help lower risk, they don’t eliminate it. That’s why every business must adopt robust ransomware remediation practices and a ransomware incident response plan.

  • Disaster Recovery Plans
    A robust disaster recovery plan can help streamline recovery and contain the costs and operational impacts of a ransomware attack. A plan must include steps like identifying impacted assets, damage control, network isolation, variant identification, choosing the right remediation approach, and implementing preventative measures.
  • Immutable Backup Strategy
    An immutable backup is crucial to a robust ransomware incident response plan because it prevents data backups from being altered or deleted, even by administrators. It ensures that data can be restored during remediation efforts and helps meet data retention compliance and governance requirements.
  • Incident Response Retainer
    You won’t want to spend precious time finding qualified incident response support and negotiating contracts when a ransomware attack happens. That’s why it’s essential to incorporate an incident response retainer as part of your ransomware incident response plan, with professionals ready to support you at a moment’s notice. In addition to swift engagement and immediate help when a ransomware attack occurs, an incident response retainer enables proactive planning and crisis preparation, expert guidance and support from seasoned experts, and flexible usage options for changing needs.
  • Regular Unit Testing
    Testing program components in isolation ensures that vulnerabilities and weaknesses in code are identified and mitigated early in the development process, thus reducing the attack surface. Regular unit testing allows for quick code adjustments while also validating the reliability of data backups should they be needed for ransomware recovery efforts.

5. Tools Consolidation and Maturity

Finally, the proper tooling and integration points play a crucial role in your ransomware defense strategy.  As industry challenges increase in complexity, an integrated toolset that provides the proper cross-functional view is important.  The ability of SOC teams and security organizations to respond quickly without bottlenecks is key. 

  • Black Kite Ransomware Susceptibility Index (RSI) Scoring
    Black Kite’s RSI helps organizations quantify the likelihood of a ransomware attack by assessing factors like email security, remote access ports, outdated systems, and other factors. This scoring provides organizations valuable insights into opportunities to strengthen their defenses and make proactive system updates. The RSI score can also help organizations develop policies to reduce losses associated with ransomware attacks.

Start Anywhere, Go Anywhere

While there’s no silver bullet to help organizations prevent ransomware attacks, plenty can be done to minimize the threat. The beauty of this five-part ransomware defense strategy framework is that it enables us to help organizations advance their cybersecurity defense maturity no matter where they are on the continuum. Hence the phrase “start anywhere, go anywhere.”  We’ve applied this framework across countless customers who have lowered risk and evolved their security posture in their quest to prevent ransomware attacks.

Each engagement begins with a half-day Cybersecurity Workshop. This complimentary workshop with GDT security experts helps us understand an organization’s strengths, limitations, gaps, and exposures. It provides a starting point for making informed decisions about cybersecurity strategy and risk mitigation and provides an organization with actionable recommendations that answer the question: where do I start? 

Hopefully, you find this ransomware defense strategy framework helpful as you strengthen your organization’s security posture. To chat with one of our cybersecurity experts or to register for a Cybersecurity Workshop, be sure to reach out

[i] IBM: Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, available at: https://www.ibm.com/reports/data-breach
[ii] Verizon: 2024 Data Breach Investigations Report, available at: https://www.verizon.com/business/resources/reports/dbir/2024/summary-of-findings/  

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