Cyber Defense Strategies Against Phishing and Ransomware

Cyber security is one of the biggest challenges of the digital age. With the constantly evolving cyber threats, organizations need to stay up to date with emerging cyber security trends and robust security measures.

Phishing and ransomware attacks are two of the most common cyber threats organizations face. Organizations shifting to hybrid and remote working models and increased reliance on contemporary technologies have added to the risks of cyber-attacks. Hackers try to steal and manipulate private and confidential data for monetary gains.

This blog post will discuss the basics of phishing and ransomware attacks and also the cyber defense strategies for Phishing defense and ransomware prevention.

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a targeted cyber-attack that cybercriminals use to steal personal and confidential information. This is a social engineering attack in which the hackers manipulate human psychology and trick the victims into revealing their personal and confidential information. The cybercriminals trick the recipient into some sort of interaction; via messages, email, or phone call. Furthermore, they pose a sense of urgency such as account blocking, payment failure, and similar emotional triggers. Thus, the recipient responds straightway without questioning the legitimacy of the communication.

Anatomy of a Phishing Attack

The recipient may receive a phone call, a text message, or an email from a seemingly legitimate sender. In case of email phishing, it tricks the user to click a link which then takes him to a fraudulent copy of a genuine website. Sometimes, clicking the link will automatically download some program files in the system. As soon as the malware infiltrates the system, it will systemically steal the user’s confidential data such as login info, credit card details, etc. This often results in data theft and financial loss.      

Types of Phishing

Phishing is categorized into three types:

  • Generic phishing – This is like mass marketing that targets as many recipients as possible. Though the number of recipients falling into the trap of hackers might be less still there are several instances of such phishing attacks.
  • Spear phishing – This is the phishing attempt in which cybercriminals target specific individuals or companies. Firstly they gather the knowledge and data of the recipient with which they pose to be a legitimate sender.
  • Whaling – Cybercriminals target high-value organizations and companies and so the subsequent data loss is much more significant.

What Are Ransomware Attacks?

Another common type of cyber threat is ransomware – malware designed to encrypt a user’s data so the authorized person cannot access it. Then, cybercriminals demand a ransom payment to decrypt the data. For the user, paying ransom to access his data is the easiest and sometimes the only option. This is how ransomware engineering attacks cause significant financial loss to individuals and organizations.

Types of Ransomware Engineering Attacks

Ransomware is more often categorized into three types:

  • Scareware – This type of ransomware appears as pop-up messages claiming that the system has identified malware. It will further ask the user to pay up to remove the malware and secure the confidential data. Users will continue to receive pop-up messages and sometimes they might agree to pay for the malware removal which is fake in the first place.
  • Screen lockers – This kind of ransomware infiltrates the system and locks your screen entirely.  A message then appears on the screen in which the hackers pretend to be FBI agents who have blocked your system due to suspicious activity. You will be asked to pay to unlock the system.
  • Data encrypting – This is another common yet complex type of ransomware. The hackers access your confidential data and encrypt it so you cannot access it even when you are the legitimate owner. You will be asked for a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. Sometimes the user doesn’t have any other choice so he pays the ransom. However, there is still no guarantee that you will get your file back.

Anatomy of Ransomware

Ransomware often begins with a phishing email. Clicking the link will download the malware in the system. Cybercriminals use multiple different types of ransomware vectors to infiltrate the computers. For instance, ransomware infection vectors take advantage of remote desktop protocol (RDP) to steal an employee’s login credentials. Using this info, the hackers can access the enterprise network where they can directly download malware and manipulate data.

Some Common Types of Ransomware Variants

There are dozens of ransomware variants; each having its specificities. Some of these ransomware variants are:

  • Ryun – A targeted ransomware that often infiltrates the system via a phishing email or remote desktop protocol (RDP) and then encrypts the data.
  • Maze – Known for both data theft and encryption; maze first steals the user’s data and if ransom is not paid, the hackers publicly expose the confidential data
  • REvil (Sodinokibi) – Operated by Russian REvil group, this ransomware targets large enterprises and cause significant financial loss
  • Lapsus$ – This ransomware targets large enterprises and use source code to disguise malware files as trustworthy

Cyber Defense Strategies against Ransomware and Phishing

Staying up-to-date with emerging cyber threats and implementation of robust cyber security measures and cyber defense strategies can prevent data loss. Organizations should strengthen their cyber security framework to stay ahead of cyber criminals. Here are a few cyber defense strategies for ransomware for phishing defense and ransomware prevention:

Cyber Security Best Practices

Implementation of cyber security hygiene and employee awareness significantly prevent the risks of security breaches.

  • Employee Training – Organizations must conduct frequent training sessions for the employees for awareness about emerging cyber security trends. a majority of security breaches occur due to human negligence. Employees must be trained in password security, patch management, caution for data sharing, and how to identify and respond to potential security breaches in time.
  • Data Backup – A company’s data is a valuable asset. In case of a ransomware attack, sometimes there is no choice but to pay ransom to access the data.   Therefore, creating multiple copies and real-time data backup is essential. In case the data gets encrypted, the company can retrieve and recover it without much impact on operational efficiency.
  • User Authentication – It is important to limit the access to the central database. Not all the employees of the company need to access the crucial data. in addition, ensure two-factor user authentication to prevent unauthorized access and subsequent data loss.
  • Regular Patch Management – outdated software are often the entry point for malware. Make sure to keep all the systems updated with the latest patches of software. This will significantly reduce the potential vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit anytime.

Continuous improvement in Cyber security framework – organizations must continuously improve their cyber security formwork. Regular assessment and audit helps identify security gaps, system vulnerabilities and areas of improvement. The cyber security experts can make necessary improvements and implement strategies to fortify the digital frontier.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can an employee remove an active ransomware?

As soon as a ransomware attack is suspected, employees must inform the concerned department to minimize the impact. A few should be taken in this regard:

  • Quarantine the device as ransomware tends to spread to the whole network through connected devices.      
  • Don’t turn off the computer as it will help to recover the data
  • Create data backup to prevent data loss
  • Take help from cyber security experts for decryption and removal of malware

What can I do if I suspect a potential phishing attempt?

Emails received from seemingly fake addresses and having suspicious links can be phishing attempt. Avoid clicking on such links and avoid sharing confidential info. Additionally, mark it as spam. If you have already clicked on the link, inform the IT department so they can take further preventive measures.                    

How often should organizations conduct employee training?

Organizations must regularly conduct employee training sessions for cyber security awareness and to keep them informed of emerging threats. Ideally, a comprehensive training session once every six months is recommended.                     

What are some preventive measures against ransomware and phishing?     

The probability of ransomware and phishing attacks can be minimized by ensuring cyber security hygiene, user authentication, antimalware and regular employee training.

How can organizations ensure cyber security for remotely working teams?

Remotely working teams are often prone to security breaches. Employees must be trained about cyber security measures, password security, user authentication, and emerging cyber threats. Furthermore, they should be able to proactively identify and respond to potential threats and security risks.

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