8 Critical steps to take after a ransomware attack: Ransomware response guide for businesses - Part 1
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
So you don't have a plan or system in place for Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity, that's a shame because you could avoid reading this guide all together if you did.
In the event of a ransomware attack, an effective response plan can mean the difference between panic and decisive action. It can mean the difference between a company-wide infection and a contained incident; the difference between swift remediation and permanent business closure.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss in detail exactly how businesses should respond to a ransomware attack and explore preventative measures that can help reduce the risk of infection.
How to respond to a ransomware attack. If preventative measures fail, organizations should take the following steps immediately after identifying a ransomware infection.
1. Isolate affected systems.
Isolation should be considered top priority. The vast majority of ransomware will scan the target network, encrypt files stored on network shares and try to propagate laterally to other systems. To contain the infection and prevent the ransomware from spreading, infected systems must be removed from the network as soon as possible.
2. Secure backups
While backups play a crucial role in remediation, it’s important to remember that they are not immune to ransomware. To thwart recovery efforts, many modern ransomware strains will specifically target a company’s backups and try to encrypt, override or delete them.
In the event of a ransomware incident, organizations must secure their backups by disconnecting backup storage from the network or locking down access to backup systems until the infection is resolved.
3. Disable maintenance tasks
Organizations should immediately disable automated maintenance tasks such as temporary file removal and log rotation on affected systems, as these tasks can interfere with files that may be useful for investigators and forensics teams.
For example, file logs may contain valuable clues regarding the initial point of infection, while some poorly programmed ransomware variants may store important information (such as encryption keys) inside temporary files.
4. Create backups of the infected systems
Organizations should create backups or images of the infected systems after isolating them from the network. There are two main reasons for doing so:
Prevent data loss. Some ransomware decryptors contain bugs that can damage data. For instance, the decryptor of a prolific ransomware family known as Ryuk was known to truncate files, effectively cutting off one byte of each file during the decryption process. While this didn’t cause major issues for some file formats, other file types – like virtual hard disk files formats such as VHD/VHDX as well as a lot of Oracle and MySQL database files – store important information in the last byte and were at risk of being corrupted after decryption.
Having a backup of infected systems ensures data integrity. If something goes wrong during the decryption process, victims can roll back their systems and try to repeat the decryption, or contact a ransomware recovery specialist for a reliable, custom-built decryption solution.
Free decryption may be possible in the future If the encrypted data is not critical to an organization’s operations and does not need to be urgently recovered, it should be backed up and stored securely as there’s a chance that it may be able to be decrypted in the future.
There have been instances of law enforcement agencies apprehending ransomware authors and C&C servers being found, which resulted in the release of decryption keys and allowed victims to recover their data for free. In addition, a number of ransomware groups – including Shade, TeslaCrypt and CrySis, among others – have willingly released decryption keys after shutting down their operations.
5. Quarantine the malware
Victims should never outright remove, delete, reformat or reimage infected systems unless specifically instructed to by a ransomware recovery specialist. Instead, the malware should be quarantined, which allows investigators to analyze the infection and identify the exact strain of ransomware responsible for encrypting files. Removing the entire infection makes it extremely difficult for recovery teams to find the specific ransomware sample involved in the attack.
If the malware is still running, memory dumps should be made prior to quarantine to create a full record of any malicious processes that are running. The memory dump may contain the key material that was used to encrypt the files, which can potentially be extracted and used to help victims decrypt files without paying the ransom.
6. Identify and investigate patient zero
Identifying patient zero (i.e. the source of the infection) is crucial for understanding how attackers gained access to the system, what other actions they took while they were on the network and the extent of the infection. Detecting the source of the infection is useful for not only resolving the current incident, but can also help organizations address vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of future compromise.
It can be challenging to identify the original point of compromise because, in many cases, the threat actors will have been on the system for weeks or even months before deploying the ransomware payload. Companies that lack the resources or expertise to perform thorough digital forensics should consider enlisting the services of a professional forensics company.
7. Identify the ransomware strain
Organizations can use free services such as Emsisoft’s online ransomware identification tool or ID Ransomware to determine which strain of ransomware they have been impacted by.
These tools allow users to upload a ransom note, a sample encrypted file and the attacker’s contact information, and analyze the data to identify which ransomware strain has impacted the user’s files. It also directs the user to a free decryption tool if one is available.
8. Decide whether to pay the ransom
If backups are damaged and there is no free decryption tool available, organizations may be tempted to pay the ransom in order to recover their files.
While paying the ransom can help reduce disruption and may be cheaper than the overall cost of downtime, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Organizations should only consider paying the ransom if all other options have been exhausted and the loss of data will likely result in the company going out of business.
The following factors should be considered:
With the help of Emsisoft.