You work hard to build your business and it can be scary that someone can take you’re your systems and lock you and your team out of all your hard work with the click of a button.  Its not fair that organizations have to suffer like this which is why we are here to give you some guidance on what to do if a ransomware attack hits your organization.  Ransomware attacks have become one of the most significant threats to organizations of all sizes. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system or data, usually by encrypting it, until a ransom is paid. If your network is hit with ransomware, the following steps can help you respond effectively and minimize damage.

  1. Isolate the Infection

The first and most critical step is to contain the spread of the ransomware. Immediately disconnect the infected systems from the network to prevent the malware from spreading to other devices. This may involve:

  • Disconnecting network cables
  • Disabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections
  • Shutting down switches or routers if necessary

Isolating the infection can limit the damage and give you a clearer picture of which systems are affected.  This is much easier to do if you are running some sort of advanced threat detection (ADT) tools which will identify the infected system by the behavior of what a ransomware attack looks like.  The tool, or individuals in a security operations center (SOC) who are watching for these behaviors, can isolate the system before the attack becomes widespread.

  1. Assess the Damage

Once the infected systems are isolated, assess the scope and impact of the attack. Determine which files and systems have been encrypted and identify the ransomware variant if possible. This information can be critical for understanding the nature of the attack and planning your next steps. This is often done in your SIEM tool which collects log information from your systems.

  1. Notify Key Stakeholders

Inform key stakeholders within your organization, including IT staff, management, and any relevant third parties such as your cybersecurity insurance provider or legal counsel. Transparency is essential in handling a ransomware attack, and timely communication can help coordinate a more effective response. Some insurance providers require that you notify them within a specific amount of time after recognizing the attack in order for you to recover damages from a claim.  Additionally, notifying your local office of the FBI can be helpful as they may have help for you if they have seen the ransomware before.  They may even have a decryption key to help get your data back.

  1. Preserve Evidence

It’s crucial to preserve any evidence that can help in understanding the attack and possibly aid in legal action or investigations. Do not delete or alter the affected systems or files. Capture screenshots of ransom notes and any communication from the attackers. Collect log files, network traffic data, and other relevant information.

  1. Identify the Ransomware Variant

Identifying the specific ransomware strain is essential for determining the best course of action. Tools such as ID Ransomware can help identify the ransomware by analyzing ransom notes or encrypted files. Knowing the variant can help you find specific decryption tools or guidelines that might be available.

  1. Determine Your Response Strategy

Once you have identified the ransomware and assessed the damage, you need to decide whether to restore from backups or consider other options. Here are a few considerations:

  • Restoring from Backups: If you have reliable and recent backups, restoring from them is often the best option. Ensure that the backups are clean and unaffected by the ransomware before starting the restoration process.
  • Paying the Ransom: Authorities like the FBI generally advise against paying the ransom, as it does not guarantee the return of your data and may encourage further attacks. However, if no viable backup exists and the encrypted data is critical, some organizations may consider this as a last resort. Engage with law enforcement or a cybersecurity expert before making this decision.
  • Decryption Tools: For some ransomware variants, free decryption tools are available. Websites like No More Ransom provide decryption tools for various ransomware types. Ensure you use reputable sources to avoid further compromising your systems.
  1. Eradicate the Ransomware

Before restoring data or reconnecting systems to the network, ensure that the ransomware is completely removed. This may involve:

  • Using antivirus or anti-malware software to scan and clean infected systems
  • Applying security patches and updates
  • Rebuilding infected systems from scratch if necessary
  1. Recover Data

If you have clean backups, restore your data and systems from these backups. Ensure that restored systems are fully patched and secured before reconnecting them to the network. Verify that the restoration process is successful and that systems are functioning correctly.

  1. Communicate with Stakeholders

Keep all relevant stakeholders informed throughout the recovery process. This includes employees, customers, and any regulatory bodies if required. Transparency in communication can help maintain trust and manage the expectations of those affected by the attack.

  1. Review and Strengthen Security Posture

After the immediate crisis is resolved, conduct a thorough post-incident review to understand how the ransomware infiltrated your network and what can be done to prevent future attacks. This may include:

  • Enhancing security training and awareness programs for employees
  • Implementing stronger access controls and network segmentation
  • Regularly updating and patching systems and software
  • Conducting regular security audits and vulnerability assessments
  • Improving backup strategies to ensure data integrity and availability
  1. Engage with Cybersecurity Professionals

Consider hiring cybersecurity experts to conduct a detailed forensic analysis of the attack, help with recovery, and provide recommendations for strengthening your security defenses. Their expertise can be invaluable in understanding the intricacies of the attack and in preventing future incidents.

Final Thoughts 

A ransomware attack can be a devastating event for any organization, but a structured and calm response can help mitigate the damage and facilitate recovery. By isolating the infection, assessing the damage, preserving evidence, and following a clear response plan, you can navigate the crisis more effectively. Strengthening your cybersecurity posture post-incident is crucial to safeguarding against future attacks. Remember, preparation and vigilance are your best defenses against ransomware.  All of this information should also be in your incident response plan if you have one.  If you do not have one, consider creating one to make the process smoother in the event of an additional future attack.