Ransomware Stages

The 7 Stages of a Ransomware Attack

Ransomware attacks are not a single event. It’s a series of events that disrupt and disable systems, and force organizations to pay large amounts to recover data and get online again. We can understand the extent of ransomware attacks and the importance of having a recovery plan.

Stages 1 – 3: The Calm Before Storm

You may not be aware of the first three stages of a ransomware infection. While it is important to prevent these attacks, they can also be prevented by intervening where necessary.

Stage 1 – Initiation to the Attack

The attacker will set up ransomware to infiltrate your computer. This could be done by sending out phishing emails, creating malicious websites, exploiting RDP connections weaknesses, or directly attacking software vulnerabilities. Your organization’s number of users is a sign that you are more susceptible to targeted attacks like phishing, malicious sites, and combinations thereof. One user can make a mistake, execute ransomware code and infiltrate the system.

Stage 2 – Instantiation

Once the ransomware is infecting your system, the second stage will occur. The ransomware will establish a communication channel back to the attacker. This communication line can be used by the ransomware attacker to download additional malware. The ransomware could remain hidden for several weeks or months until the attacker decides to launch an attack. Ransomware might try to spread laterally through your network to gain access to as much data as possible. Ransomware attacks can also be used to target backup systems, thereby reducing the possibility that you will ever be able to restore your data. The attacker could wait until the right time to launch the attack, so you may not be aware that your systems have been compromised.

Stage 3 – Activation

The attacker executes the ransomware attack remotely in the third stage. This could happen at any moment the attacker chooses, and can completely surprise your organization. It can be difficult for organizations to recognize that an attack has occurred and taken the necessary steps to mitigate it.

Stages 4-7 of The Storm

Your system and data will be at risk once an attack is initiated. If you don’t have a plan to protect your system and recover from the attack, downtime could last for hours, days, or even weeks. These consequences can be costly for your brand reputation and financial bottom line.

Stage 4 – Encryption

Ransomware locks data hostage by using encryption (or in certain cases, a lock screen but encryption is most likely in an attack on a corporate network). Different ransomware types use different encryption methods. They can encrypt the entire file system or individual files. Ransomware that targets backup systems could delete or encrypt backups to prevent recovery. It is unlikely that the ransomware will be able to decrypt the data. Your organization will then have three options: pay the ransom, lose the data or recover from a backup or replica.

Stage 5 – Ransom Request

This stage is where you are officially considered the victim. The ransomware has encrypted your data. The ransomware will provide you with instructions on how to pay the ransom using a cryptocurrency transaction. Depending on the data that ransomware could encrypt data, data will be impossible to access. Applications and entire systems may also be affected by the encryption. Without access to data and services, operations can be seriously disrupted.

Stage 6 – Recovery and Ransom

Many of the companies we have seen in the news are at this stage. They have experienced significant downtime and disruptions, and many have decided to pay the ransom. Even if data is recoverable, it’s unlikely that the ransom will cover the costs of the recovery process. If your company has a solid recovery plan, it may be possible to quickly recover data without requiring any disruption. This will eliminate the negative publicity that can come with downtime or paying a high ransom.

Stage 7 – Clean up

Ransomware can be removed by paying a ransom, or recovering data from a replica or backup. Malicious files and code might still exist and must be deleted. Ransomware can be identified by the attack and will make it easier for you to find and remove the malware. Systems can be recovered from an isolated network to remove the malware, without risk of reactivation. The system can then be restored to normal operation after the malware is removed.

Resilience is the key to recovery

Every cyber security plan should include a part to prevent ransomware attacks from happening. Cyber-attacks and other cyber-crimes are by nature designed to bypass preventative steps and evolve quickly to do this. These threats are a matter of when and not if. Organizations that deal with them seriously understand this. Only an effective recovery plan can prevent downtime, disruptions to business, and financial losses when that happens.

Although there are many components to business resilience and continuity, IT is the most important. However, IT’s ability to recover data is the core of resilience. Disaster recovery and backup can be very effective. Modern ransomware attacks demand modern data management and recovery solutions to protect data across multiple platforms, including cloud, tiered storage, and SaaS.

Zerto 9 offers new and improved recovery capabilities, including immutable backups for the ransomware battle. Zerto’s world-class continuous data protection system and cloud data management give organizations many options for data recovery to minimize downtime from any type of disaster, such as cyber-attacks or operational loss.

Ransomware protection with the Recovery Experts

Ransomware attacks can infiltrate systems, despite all efforts to prevent and prepare. Knowing how ransomware attacks affect systems is the first step to planning for both recovery and prevention. Now is the best time to start planning for recovery. You may want to review any plans you have made to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest ransomware variants.

The best defense against disruptions and attacks is to be prepared for the worst. Do not allow your company to be victimized by not having a plan for recovery in case of an attack.

TenCate, a multi-national textile company based in the Netherlands experienced ransomware attacks twice. One was before Zerto was implemented and one afterward. By implementing Zerto and planning for ransomware recovery, Tencate reduced recovery time from weeks to minutes.