Making Infosec Jobs Easier: Preventing Ransomware

Bala Choubey
August 13, 2020 | 10 min read | Security Posture, Vulnerability Management

This is post 8 in our series on making infosec jobs easier and covers threat hunting. You can read the previous 7 posts at one of the links below.

In recent years, ransomware has rocketed to the top of most feared attacks on an organization. Despite dozens of very high profile ransomware outbreaks, organizations across the globe have continued to fall victim to ransomware. Some organizations refuse to pay the sometimes steep ransoms. Others capitulate to attackers’ demands and pay the ransom. All of them suffer ongoing damage to their reputations. With no signs of this threat abating anytime soon, there are a number of key steps that organizations need to take in order to minimize the chances that ransomware will freeze them out of critical assets. Here is how to make your security team more effective at the job of preventing ransomware. After all, nobody wants to boot up their laptop and see this:

wannacry ransomware

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that encrypts data, offering to decrypt that data only if a ransom is paid. There is often a threat of permanent deletion of the data if the ransom is not paid within a certain amount of time. It’s also common for the attackers to threaten to publish of sell the organization’s data.

Ransomware, like many other forms of malware, makes its way into an organization using a variety of techniques – phishing, stolen or weak credentials, vulnerability exploitation, etc. Once it infiltrates the corporate network, most malware spreads across that network, finding and encrypting more data on more machines. The result can be catastrophic, freezing access to information systems across even large companies, bringing their business to a standstill.

8 Steps to Prevent Malware

Unfortunately, there is no single silver bullet for preventing malware. As with many other forms of attacks, adversaries can exploit a single weakness anywhere to implant the malware and freeze users out of sensitive data. Here are 8 steps that your organization needs to take to help minimize the chances of malware infection.

8 steps to prevent ransomware

1. Patch Your Enterprise Applications and Operating Systems

The good news is that ransomware is like many other forms of malware is that it typically exploits known vulnerabilities. The bad news is that your patching program probably isn’t as effective as you’d like it to be. Proper patching begins with an accurate inventory of all assets, including categorization and calculation of business criticality. From there, risk-based prioritization can ensure that the most important vulnerabilities are fixed first. Reporting on key metrics such as mean-time-to-patch (MTTP) can help you keep track of efforts and even introduce some gamification to pit one team against the next.

Here’s a shot of a Balbix patching dashboard illustrating MTTP by asset criticality, patching compliance by site, and more.

2. Update/Remove Old and Obsolete Software

37% of IT budgets are wasted on unused software, so removing that software can help with significant cost savings. Regardless, old or obsolete software is a danger because vendors stop issuing security updates.

Fortunately, Balbix can help identify obsolete software so that you can remove it, or at the very least, have tough conversations with asset owners about upgrading or replacing the software.

3. Continuous Data Backup and Restoration

If, despite your best efforts at prevention, ransomware were to hit your organization, ensuring that you have a strong backup and restoration process in place can ensure that you can restore data that has been encrypted, without paying the ransom. The perfect workaround! Just make sure that the machines on which the backups are stored are completely isolated from network segments where malware might spread.

4. Disable Vulnerable Services Like RDP Whenever Possible

There are a lot of important network services in a typical enterprise network – Telnet, RDP, FTP, etc. These same services can also represent a way to infiltrate your network, so they need to be carefully controlled. Start by identifying critical assets running these services, and analyze whether there is a true business need for the service, as well as whether the appropriate compensating controls are in place. Risk owner assignment can help ensure that these decisions are being made by the people closest to the area of the business where the assets are used.

As you might have guessed by now, Balbix can automate this entire process, ensuring that it doesn’t become a burden on you, or anyone else in your organization:
identifying insecure services

5. Maintain Password Hygiene

Amazingly, weak or stolen credentials are still the culprit behind 80% of enterprise breaches. And the list of password related challenges is long. Weak and default admin/system passwords. Password reuse between work and personal accounts. Unencrypted passwords. Lack of multifactor authentication. Accounts with no password or authentication. Poor password hygiene on privileged user machines.

Find these issues. Eradicate them. Use Balbix.

6. Employ Anti-virus and Email Security

Employing these basic services sounds, well, basic. That said, not all such compensating controls are created equally. It can be just as important to identify effectiveness of your controls as it can be to have them in place to begin with. That means ensuring that they are up-to-date and patched, as well as ensuring that you have the best tools for the job in place.

Identifying assets not running these critical applications is quick and straightforward:
critical services

7. Control Access with Least Privilege and Email Segmentation

Too many privileges adds up to too much risk. It’s important to identify assets, especially critical machines, where users have more privileges than are necessary for their roles. As with disabling risky network services, risk owner assignment can help ensure that these decisions are being made by the people closest to the area of the business where the assets are used.
user privileges

8. Train All Users on Security Awareness

Of course, much of this could be avoided if all users were 100% aware and 100% compliant on appropriate security measures to avoid things like phishing or downloads of malware. Preventing ransomware is a team effort, and ensuring that your “team” of end users is appropriately trained and aware is as important as anything else on this list.

Balbix helps to continuously assess your enterprise’s cybersecurity posture to protect against ransomware attacks. If any of the screenshots above seem like things that can help your organization, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a demo. One of my favorite parts of my job is demonstrating our new technology to people that have never seen it before!

Request a demo today to learn more about these and other capabilities in the Balbix platform.