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Ransomware 101: How it Infects Your System and Spreads Across Networks



In this post, we explore the growing problem of ransomware, a harmful software that locks a business’s data and demands payment to unlock it. Ransomware poses a significant danger, especially to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that may lack the IT support or cybersecurity expertise of larger corporations.


The urgency of actions to address ransomware has been emphasized by the FBI, which recently warned US companies about the danger of dual ransomware attacks. A notification from the private industry dated September 27, 2023, revealed that attackers are increasingly targeting the same organization multiple times, often in rapid succession. These dual attacks involve different types of ransomware, resulting in data encryption, data theft, and significant financial losses due to ransom payments. Typically, the second attack occurs within 48 hours of the initial one, although there have been instances where the attack has happened up to 10 days later. This strategy amplifies the harm caused and indicates a more advanced and persistent threat landscape.


Being a small business ourselves, we understand the difficulties and constraints that other SMBs encounter when dealing with these complex cybersecurity risks. Let's embark on this journey together to understand the inner workings of ransomware, its consequences on your business, and how to safeguard your crucial systems and data from these ever-evolving cyber threats.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that encrypts your computer files and prevents your business from accessing them. The cybercriminals behind the attack will demand payment for a decryption key to regain access.


This can be stressful for any business, but paying the ransom is not always the best solution. It's essential to be cautious and not give in to their demands, as it only supports their criminal activities, and there's no guarantee that your files will be released. Instead, we recommend being proactive and prepared for such attacks, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses with limited IT resources.


Staying informed and vigilant can help protect your business from these threats.

Common Infection Methods and How It Spreads Across Your Networks

The perpetrators must infiltrate an organization's systems with malware to initiate a ransomware attack. There are numerous approaches they can take, but they usually opt for one of the five methods listed below.

1. Email Attachments

Cybercriminals frequently employ phishing emails to infiltrate your systems with ransomware. These emails are not your typical spam messages but rather cleverly disguised as legitimate business communications. They often contain attachments that appear to be work-related, such as invoices or routine business correspondence. These attachments may be a Word file, Excel spreadsheet, PDF, or ZIP file, chosen for their familiarity and the likelihood that you'll open them without suspicion.


The real danger lies within the attachment, which contains a malicious payload unleashed when you open the file. Sometimes, the ransomware attack is immediate, while other times, the attackers may wait for days or even months before deploying the attack, making it harder to trace and anticipate.

2. Malicious URLs

Have you ever received an email that appears to be from a reputable company like PayPal, Netflix, or Microsoft? Instead of an attachment, the email contains a link encouraging you to click on it. The email may claim an issue with your account and prompt you to log in to fix it. However, this is where the danger lies. The link does not lead to the actual login page but to a fake one that looks authentic.


If you enter your username and password on this fake page, your sensitive information will go straight to cybercriminals. They can then use this information to break into your account and potentially launch a ransomware attack on your systems.


It gets even worse. Sometimes, clicking on the link can trigger a ransomware download, especially if you use older, less secure versions of operating systems or web browsers. These older systems may lack the modern safeguards that prevent malware from automatically executing.


We are not trying to scare you, but we want to give you the knowledge to protect yourself. Knowing these risks is the first step in safeguarding your business from digital threats. Stay alert and remember that even a simple click can make all the difference in protecting your business's digital health.

3. Remote Desktop Protocol

The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a handy tool that allows computers to connect virtually, often used for IT support and remote work. However, it also poses a vulnerability that cybercriminals exploit to launch ransomware attacks, especially against businesses without dedicated IT staff.


Cybercriminals have various ways to infiltrate your systems. They may exploit unpatched security flaws or use clever social engineering tactics. One common trick involves deceptive pop-up messages in web browsers, falsely claiming that your computer is infected with malware. These scammers then offer to "help" by requesting remote access to perform a vulnerability scan. In reality, they use this access to install harmful software that appears legitimate but is malicious. This breach exposes your system to further fraudulent activities and sets the stage for a ransomware attack.

4. Pirated Software

Many organizations have been affected by using unlicensed or illegitimate software, which poses a significant risk. Some businesses see it as a way to save money, but it can have disastrous consequences. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) without extensive IT departments or cybersecurity knowledge are especially vulnerable.


In the past, illegitimate software was a significant source of malware. Companies looking to cut costs would use non-genuine software, only to discover that it often contained malicious code. The lack of regular updates from legitimate developers further increases the risk, leaving vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit.


Another way malware spreads is through pirate sites that offer downloads of music and films. Like malicious email attachments, these files can be infected with malware, silently infiltrating a company's network.


The threat of ransomware through pirated software has decreased recently. This is partly due to the availability and affordability of legitimate streaming services, which have made pirate sites less appealing. However, the risk of encountering malware, including ransomware, remains significant for those still tempted by or dependent on unlicensed sources.

5. Removable Devices

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often lack a dedicated IT department, leading to increased use of seemingly harmless practices like using USB sticks, which can be a serious potential risk. Many SMBs don't have advanced threat detection systems in place, which creates an opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit.


One common tactic used by these hackers is to leave USB sticks infected with malware purposely in public places. An unsuspecting person might come across one of these devices and plug it into their computer, thinking it's harmless or beneficial. Unfortunately, this simple action can unknowingly introduce malware into the system. Moreover, when employees use USB sticks for personal and work purposes, they might unknowingly download harmful software. This malware can then be activated as soon as the USB stick is connected to another computer in the network.

Conclusion

The ransomware threat is a serious concern, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). However, there is hope in the form of solutions like Everleap. With their extensive experience as a trusted Cloud Hosting Provider for over two decades, Everleap now assists SMBs in Southern California with their IT operations and cybersecurity needs.


Everleap ensures that your IT systems run smoothly with 24/7 monitoring and maintenance. They also update your systems with the latest software updates and security patches, reducing the risk of ransomware attacks. Their cybersecurity services go beyond just monitoring, offering regular backups, disaster recovery planning, and measures to protect against cyber threats, ransomware, and data breaches.


For businesses with remote or hybrid work schedules, Everleap secures internal networks and adapts to the changing nature of work and associated cyber risks. They also provide consulting and cloud enablement services to help businesses transition to or fully leverage cloud-enabled services, boosting productivity and enhancing security.


In conclusion, Everleap is a reliable ally for SMBs facing the challenge of ransomware. Their comprehensive IT management and cybersecurity approach effectively defends against evolving digital threats, ensuring the protection of crucial data and maintaining operational integrity in our increasingly digital world.



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