How does ransomware work?

Almost everyone has heard the term ransomware, but many don’t truly understand what it means. Ransomware is a growing threat to organizations around the world. For cyber criminals, it’s a fairly easy attack and the rewards can be quite lucrative. For organizations, a ransomware attack can be a crippling event that brings productivity and business to a halt while causing millions of dollars in lost business, not counting the cost of the ransom itself.

So, how does ransomware work? This type of cyberattack is a form of malware that’s designed to encrypt files on a computer system, effectively blocking users from accessing data or their devices. {does it make sense to include a statement here about how an attacker might send a fake email, an unsuspecting employee may open a link, etc?} Using ransomware, cyber criminals can hold a computer system “hostage” until a ransom is paid.

For cybersecurity teams, understanding how ransomware works is just the first step in defending the organization. To improve ransomware prevention, security teams must identify the potential vulnerabilities in their own systems and their supply chain, taking swift action to proactively mitigate risk through continuous monitoring and excellent security hygiene.

By gaining visibility into the attack surface, security teams can successfully identify how to avoid ransomware in their system. BitSight’s suite of solutions enable security teams to improve security posture as is needed as part of any successful ransomware strategy.

The basics of ransomware prevention

How does ransomware work, exactly? Attack methods are continually evolving, but there are a variety of vectors that criminals use to access an IT environment and initiate a ransomware attack:

Once ransomware has been installed in an IT environment, attackers begin to encrypt data and add extensions to files that make them inaccessible. Sophisticated versions of ransomware can propagate automatically without any outside intervention.

To avoid ransomware, security teams need greater visibility into their attack surface and the vulnerabilities within it. By proactively identifying security gaps before hackers can, security teams can take steps to close ports, patch software, segment systems, and update hardware to reduce the size of their attack surface and minimize the risk of a ransomware attack.

  • Phishing attacks are one of the most common delivery systems for ransomware. In a phishing attack, hackers successfully convince a user within an organization to click on a link or open an attachment that downloads ransomware to the system.
  • Social engineering techniques enable attackers to gain administrative access to a computer system, allowing them to move swiftly throughout an IT environment and encrypt more high-value targets.
  • Security holes and vulnerabilities provide attackers with another vector for successfully penetrating an organization’s defenses. By taking advantage of unpatched or misconfigured systems, attackers can gain access to a network without needing to dupe users.
Ransomware Trends eBook

Ransomware attacks have been rising at an alarming rate — with victims ranging from one of the largest fuel suppliers in the United States to Ireland’s Department of Health. Download our ebook to learn more about:

  • The latest tactics used by ransomware groups
  • BitSight’s analysis of data on hundreds of ransomware events
  • Best practices to protect your organization
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By providing objective, verifiable and actionable security ratings, BitSight transforms how companies manage security performance and third-party risk. As the most widely adopted security ratings solution in the world, BitSight delivers the visibility organizations need to improve security performance and minimize the risk of ransomware attacks.

BitSight Security Ratings provide a simple, clear, and objective way to visualize an organization’s attack surface as well as any gaps in security performance that may pose a risk. BitSight Security Ratings provide both the big-picture visibility and granular details that security and risk leaders need to improve security performance and manage third-party risk. BitSight issues daily Security Ratings for over 170,000 organizations. Ratings are based on objective and verifiable data, and they require no input from the rated entity. BitSight’s proprietary method of collecting data from over 120 sources provides unprecedented visibility into 23 key risk vectors in four major categories: evidence of compromised systems, security diligence, user behavior, and publicly disclosed breaches. Ratings range from 250 to 900 – the higher the rating, the better the organization’s security posture.

In addition to preventing ransomware, BitSight Security Ratings can help organizations conduct regular security risk assessments, improve cloud security posture management, streamline supply chain risk management, and reduce risk in cyber insurance underwriting.

Avoiding a ransomware attack with BitSight

How does a company’s security rating impact ransomware? BitSight’s research teams have conducted studies of how ransomware worked in attacks since November 2018. This research shows that higher-rated organizations are far less likely to succumb to an attack than lower-rated organizations. Based on this knowledge, security teams can use BitSight Security Ratings as part of a comprehensive approach to ransomware prevention.

Continuous monitoring

BitSight Security Ratings enable security and risk managers to gain immediate insight into security posture at any given moment, identifying and remediating vulnerabilities before attackers can use them to access the network. Continuous monitoring can identify problems with security hygiene, poor patching cadence, evidence of compromised systems, and dangerous user behavior such as peer-to-peer file sharing activity.

Third-party risk management

For many organizations, ransomware attacks begin with breach of a third-party network. As a result, organizations must continuously monitor the security posture of their third-party and forth-party vendors. BitSight Security Ratings can immediately expose risk within the supply chain, allowing security teams to focus resources on working with vendors to achieve significant and measurable risk reduction.

Cybersecurity Risk Rating Solutions Buyers Guide & Recommendations

Not all security ratings are created equal. From the reliability of their data, to the transparency of the ratings process, to the dispute resolution process, you need to be selective about who you choose as your ratings partner. Here's what you should look for when choosing a cyber security ratings partner.

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Why customers choose BitSight

BitSight improves an organization’s ability to monitor security performance and manage third-party risk. As the world’s leading Security Ratings service, BitSight provides greater visibility into security posture and enhances risk management throughout the vendor lifecycle. By enabling continuous monitoring and assessment, BitSight helps organizations make faster, more strategic decisions about cybersecurity policy and governance while successfully mitigating risk.

BitSight’s 2,100+ customers worldwide include 4 of the top 5 investment banks, 7 of the top 10 largest cyber insurers, and all of the Big 4 accounting firms. BitSight is also trusted by 25% of Fortune 500 companies to improve security performance, and 20% of the world’s countries use BitSight to protect national security.

Get a complete view of your organization’s attack surface — both on-premise and in the cloud and discover where your organization's cyber risk is.

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