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Ransomware Recovery and Beyond: How to Stop Future Attacks

Ransomware recovery
As ransomware frequency and severity grow, businesses are left scrambling to recover after a breach to ensure minimal impact. But what if there was a methodical approach to not just bouncing back, but becoming impervious future threats? Here is our ransomware recovery plan so your team is not just restoring data, they are adopting a recovery-first mentality.
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Some experiences are like chicken pox: Once you recover, your chances of having to repeat the ordeal are virtually zero.

Ransomware, unfortunately, is not one of those experiences. On the contrary, suffering a ransomware breach – as 72 percent of organizations do in a typical year – only makes it more likely that you’ll face recurring attacks, especially if you paid the ransom. Indeed, data shows that the risk of experiencing another ransomware incident in the months following an initial breach increases by nearly 600 percent.

This is why it’s so important to make ransomware recovery about more than simply getting through the incident and moving on. If you want to avoid having to pay ransoms again in the event of future attacks – or, even better, prevent attacks from occurring at all, although that’s not realistic in all cases – you need to figure out what went wrong the first time and how you can do better going forward.

To that end, here’s a guide on how to react after you’ve been the victim of a successful ransomware attack. The tips in this article won’t undo the financial and reputational loss you incurred from the attack, but they will help you beat the odds and minimize the risk that you’ll experience similar losses again.

What is ransomware recovery?

Ransomware recovery involves several critical tasks that must be completed in order to both mitigate the impact of a ransomware attack and restore normal operations. Immediately following the attack, time becomes a critical factor, necessitating swift action to minimize data loss and maintain business continuity.

Key tasks include:

  • Damage Assessment: Before panic sets in, it’s best to get the security team together and evaluate the extent of the breach and prioritize efforts. This will help you with the next step.
  • Communication ASAP: Transparent communication and keeping all stakeholders in the loop is crucial in order to maintain trust and assure them that a crisis is being averted – that recovery measures are indeed being put in place. (This is much easier to do when you have a disaster recovery plan in place, of course – more on that below).
  • Disaster Recovery Plan Execution: Having a solid game plan is key here. It should be documented, familiar, and easily accessible to the team.
  • Security Enhancement: After the dust settles, reviewing and upgrading security measures (strengthening passwords, permissions, updating software, etc).. Also if there were any hiccups in the DR plan, these should be addressed immediately.

The Importance of a ransomware recovery plan

Given the escalating frequency and sophistication of ransomware attacks, it’s evident that the stakes are higher than ever. The ability to regain control and restore business continuity swiftly and securely without resorting to paying the ransom demanded by cybercriminals is crucial. 

Your ransomware recovery plan must go further than just restoring data. Businesses must adopt a recovery-first mentality, recognizing that ransomware attacks are inevitable and necessitate a proactive stance. This way, when faced with the challenge of informing your customers about an attempted breach, you’ll be able to confidently state that the problem has been swiftly resolved.

What to do after a ransomware attack

The first thing to understand about ransomware recovery is that it’s both a short-term and a long-term process.

In the short term, recovering from ransomware involves restoring business operations so that your company can get back to normal. You’ll ideally do this using data backups, which allow you to recover your systems without paying a ransom. Unfortunately, few businesses are successful at backup-based recovery. A 2023 report found that just 16 percent of organizations successfully recovered from ransomware attacks using backups. The rest either did not have backups in place at all or were unable to restore successfully from their backups (and as we discuss in detail below, simply having backups is no guarantee that you can actually recover using them). As a result, most had to pay ransoms to keep their businesses running.

As for long-term ransomware recovery, that refers to the in-depth process of figuring out what went wrong and ensuring it won’t happen again. This part of ransomware recovery is easy to overlook once you’ve gotten back to normal in the wake of an attack. But without a long-term recovery operation that helps you bolster your defenses against future attacks, you’re likely to find yourself hacked again and again with no ability to recover other than paying the ransom.

Ransomware attack post-mortem: Ransomware recovery strategies

Once you’ve completed short-term recovery from ransomware, your long-term recovery process should include a multi-faceted analysis of which oversights exposed you to a ransomware breach and how you can minimize your risk going forward.

Here are the main areas to focus on.

Strengthen cybersecurity defenses

First and most obvious, determine which cybersecurity shortcomings allowed threat actors to take your data hostage and what you can do to stop them from doing the same thing again.

For example, if your data was held hostage because an employee fell for a phishing attack and handed over access credentials to threat actors, anti-phishing education is a wise investment in the wake of the attack. So is implementing protections like multi-factor authentication, which adds another layer of defense separating attackers from your data. Likewise, if threat actors exploited a software vulnerability, doubling-down on your patching routine can help protect you against future ransomware attacks.

A critical factor to keep in mind, however, is that no amount of investment in cybersecurity can guarantee that you’ll never experience a successful ransomware attack again. You should certainly bolster your defenses and close whichever gaps let attackers in during the first incident, but never assume you’re immune to future attacks.

After all, data shows that the frequency of ransomware attacks continues to climb year-over-year. So does the average cost of a ransomware incident, which has reached an all-time high, according to the most recent data available from IBM’s study of the data breach costs.

These trends are playing out despite increases in the amount of money that companies are spending on cybersecurity – meaning that although investment in defenses is growing, ransomware attacks are growing in frequency and impact, too. If cybersecurity alone were effective in preventing breaches, you’d expect the opposite trend.

Invest in comprehensive data backup

Given the impossibility of preventing future ransomware attacks, enhancing your data backup strategy is another critical component of long-term ransomware recovery.

This process should start with making sure that you’re backing up all of your data at an interval that aligns with your Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) goals. RPO and RTO determine how frequently you need to perform data backups to ensure that the data is recent enough to allow you to restore your operations effectively.

Mistakes in this area are one common reason why backups turn out not to be effective in protecting against ransomware. For instance, if your most recent backup data is a week old and your business generated critical information since that time that it can’t live without, you may decide that paying the ransom is worth it, because if you chose to restore from the backup you’d permanently lose vital information.

Test data recovery routines

Creating backups is only the first step in mitigating future ransomware risks. You must also ensure that you are able to restore systems quickly and effectively using backups.

A variety of unexpected problems can arise during recovery. Data backups might be corrupted due to hardware degradation in your storage system, making it impossible to restore based on them. It may take much longer to move data from backup storage to production systems than you expected due to limited network bandwidth or disk I/O rates, leaving your business dormant in the meantime. You might be planning to restore operations in a different cloud or environment than the one that originally hosted your workloads, only to discover during recovery operations that software incompatibility issues significantly complicate the process. Due to these and other risks, organizations may end up choosing to pay ransoms even if they have data backups on hand, simply because they can’t recover quickly enough using the backups.

Getting ahead of challenges like these is where backup and recovery testing come in. By performing regular recovery drills – meaning simulations of disaster recovery events – you can validate that your team is actually able to restore operations within the timeframe you need in the event of an incident like a ransomware attack.

Invest in immutable backups

Alongside failed recovery routines, another threat to recovering successfully from ransomware using backups is the risk that attackers will delete or encrypt backup data. This can happen in situations where threat actors manage to compromise not just your production data, but also your backup infrastructure.

To mitigate this risk, consider creating immutable backups, which are exactly what they sound like: Backups that can’t be modified. Immutability prevents attackers from manipulating your backup data and helps ensure that when it comes time to recover using backups, you can actually do so.

Plan for cross-account disaster recovery

Cross-account recovery is another way to maximize your chances of successful ransomware recovery using data backups. With cross-account recovery, you can restore data using a different cloud account than the one that originally owned the data.

This is useful in scenarios where an entire cloud account is compromised and you need to rebuild your cloud environments under a separate account. Cross-account recovery is also beneficial if you’re unsure how your cloud account was hacked and instead of spending time figuring it out, you want to restore operations under a separate, newly created account.

Implement cross-cloud recovery

Along similar lines, the ability to recover data across cloud accounts is another way to maximize your resilience against future ransomware threats. Cross-cloud recovery allows you to recover data that originally existed in one cloud by deploying it to a different cloud – meaning that if one cloud environment you use is compromised by attackers, you can quickly restore your workloads in a separate, secure cloud.

Consider cyber insurance

The long-term ransomware recovery process presents a good opportunity to consider whether cyber insurance may be a smart investment. Cyber insurance can protect your business financially against future ransomware attacks, reducing the risk that another breach will critically harm your organization.

To be sure, cyber insurance isn’t always the best solution for mitigating ransomware risks. Your primary focus should be on implementing effective cybersecurity defenses and data backup and recovery routines so that your business is resilient against ransomware attacks. Still, cyber insurance is a means of creating another layer of protection, and it may be worth it if you’ve already optimized ransomware defenses in other areas.

Yes, you definitely can bounce back from a ransomware attack

Being the victim of a ransomware attack is bad. What’s much worse, however, is failing to learn from your initial mistakes and setting yourself up for repeated attacks. Instead, treat the period following a ransomware attack as an opportunity to invest in multi-faceted protections against future ransomware risks – including stronger cybersecurity, enhanced data backup and recovery practices and, potentially, cyber insurance.

Collectively, these solutions help ensure that you won’t face a successful ransomware attack again in the future – and that if you do, you can recover from it without handing over money to the attackers.

N2WS provides all the capabilities you need to implement a comprehensive ransomware protection strategy. Features like cross-account and cross-cloud recovery ensure that you can restore operations quickly even if threat actors compromise an account or an entire cloud. Meanwhile, immutable backups and disaster recovery testing provide additional layers of defense and maximize your ability to recover successfully from even the worst ransomware incidents.

Want to see for yourself? Request an N2WS trial.

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