Ransomware: Businesses Are Well Equipped But Underprepared

In a landscape where cybersecurity attacks are now inevitable, being underprepared is a recipe for disaster. Yet, despite the media being filled with cautionary tales of persistent malicious actors and unsuitable cyber defences, organisations have proven themselves seriously underprepared when it comes to recovering from one of today’s most prolific attack types: ransomware.

In a recent study by IDC and Kyndryl, which surveyed businesses with over 500 employees from a variety of sectors, 69% of respondents had suffered at least one successful ransomware attack in the last 12 months, and nearly a third had paid $50,000 to $100,000 to regain access to their data.

Only 28.2% of this group said they were able to recover their encrypted data from backup using the tools they already had, therefore not having to pay the ransom. Even more worryingly, 8% said that they could not recover all their data, regardless of whether they paid the ransom or not.

So, despite high-profile attacks targeting every industry, why are businesses still leaving themselves vulnerable?

The Illusion Of Preparedness

There are two ways to look at why enterprises are underprepared for ransomware. The first is the decades-long trend of consolidating infrastructure to high data availability platforms, and the second is the existence of increasingly stringent Service Level Agreements (SLAs) intended to govern that infrastructure. 

The lean towards consolidation is a necessary one as it has enabled data to move more freely through organisations and their networks, and it has motivated increased investment in clustering and storage replication, which guarantees high available easy access to this information. Though these highly replicated environments have unfortunate consequence in that it can rapidly propagate ransomware attacks from logical data corruption events.

As the infrastructure sees newly encrypted data, which the attacker intends to hold to ransom, as something which needs to be preserved, it can result in the attack propagating rapidly and all servers becoming encrypted.

In addition, the use of SLAs as a sign of preparedness can make an organisation vulnerable - while a dashboard full of green lights showing successful backups and data consistency can seem like a positive sign, it’s only impactful for some forms of risk. Successful backups do not always equal successful recovery, so these SLA’s need to cover both backup and test recovery if they are to provide confidence to an organisation.

But the outlook isn’t all negative - given the well-publicised nature of ransomware as a cyber threat, rates of adoption for tools like malware scanners, cyber tolerant backup and recovery software, and zero trust methodologies have been encouraging.

Yet, knowledge gaps remain in how these technologies are configured and managed, meaning they often cannot deliver what these businesses want and need if an attack strikes. 

Ransomware Recovery, The Right Way

To create a system that’s built to handle modern ransomware attacks, businesses need a Cyber Tolerant Recovery Solution that meets a few key attributes. The first is introducing an air gap to act as a firebreak for the propagation of compromised data during an attack, ensuring that backup data is physically separated from production data. Then, these backups should be stored in an environment with immutability and retention lock, which stops data from being changed or expired by a cyberattack once committed to disk. 

Next, verification is vital before triggering a recovery process from backup data. Using an anomaly scanner can detect indicators of compromise to improve defence against them. Then finally, all data storage and protection efforts are useless unless they help the business get back on its feet faster, and with less financial damage, than by paying the ransom. Therefore, organisations must be able to manage mass recovery and the handling of traffic tens of times greater than normal backup workloads.

Many businesses are already prioritising security investments in response to the rise in ransomware, so focus should be on adding to and reconfiguring their security, rather than outright replacing it.

To expand and improve data recovery capabilities, a holistic approach should be taken. This means identifying critical server and data volumes and which systems they are stored in, and pinpointing the systems that need to be recovered first, according to their unique business tolerance timelines. The business’ tolerance for data loss must be considered, given its huge effect on the cost of implementing a data recovery solution.

Lastly, organisations cannot forget data in cloud and SaaS solutions, as they are equally as vulnerable. Only by truly understanding its capability to recover data in the event of a ransomware attack can businesses adopt a comprehensive approach, allowing them to protect and recover more data, faster.

Duncan Bradley is Director of Customer Engagement, UKI Cyber Resiliency Practice at Kyndryl 

Image: Shubham Dhage

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