How to Recover From a Ransomware Attack with Immutable Backups

Jesse Sumrak

Ransomware attacks have been on the rise over the last decade, and businesses have failed to find a one-size-fits-all approach to eliminating the threat. Prevention is better than cure, but with criminal hackers are tenacious and flexibility, it’s not realistic to expect cybersecurity defenses alone to do the trick—you need a plan for how you’ll recover from a ransomware attack when it’s successful.

Around 70% of businesses worldwide were victims of ransomware in 2022—that’s an increase of 16% since 2018. Eventually, attackers will target your business, and recent news and headlines indicate they’ll ultimately breach your system. Once they do, you need a plan for how you’ll mitigate damages, keep systems online, and recover your files quickly. And, ideally, avoid paying a bank account-crushing ransom.

Fortunately, you’re not at the whim of hackers. While they’ve matured to breach more systems, technology and cyber resilience strategies have evolved to deal with the threats. Below, we’ll explain everything you need to know about ransomware attacks to better understand the threat and proactively defend your business and its digital assets.

What Is a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware is a form of malicious software (known as malware) that blocks access to your data or systems, typically by encrypting your information. Hackers encrypt this data and hold the decryption keys hostage unless you pay a ransom fee before the deadline. Don’t pay the ransom, and your attacker may delete your data for good or release publicly.

There’s also no guarantee you’ll receive the decryption keys or access to your data again following the ransom payment. Hackers aren’t really playing by the rules of ethics, and some will steal your money and destroy or release your data.

Most hackers don’t attack businesses for sport (despite what the movies illustrate). They want money, and they get that money through ransom payments in the form of cryptocurrency.

No business is immune to the threat of ransomware attacks. Small businesses tend to be more vulnerable because they invest fewer resources into protecting their systems, but attackers aren’t afraid to go after big dogs like Facebook, Yahoo!, or Amazon.

Attackers infiltrate systems to install malware using a variety of techniques. Often, these take the form of social engineering attacks, phishing emails, or infected URLs and attachments. Bad actors influence employees to open emails or download attachments, and these actions often allow the malware to spread to the business systems.

Malware vs. Ransomware: What’s the Difference?

By definition, all ransomware is malware, but not all malware is ransomware. Malware is any malicious software that attackers use to infiltrate and infect a system. Ransomware is a form of malware used to encrypt data and hold it hostage in exchange for a ransom fee.

Can You Prevent Ransomware?

Malware can be prevented, to some extent, but there’s no foolproof plan for denying all points of entry. Attackers make their livings off of exploiting businesses, and when one tactic fails, they move on to the next best thing.

While it’s safe to assume your systems can (and likely will) be breached, you can do plenty of things to protect your data and deter attackers. Remember, most threat actors aren’t attacking your business for fun—they want to make money. If they find it exceedingly difficult to infiltrate your systems, they may move on to an easier target that promises a higher return on investment.

Oftentimes, there is not a single attacker or group targeting a single company. Automated techniques without human guidance can also infect companies. Smaller organizations fall victim to traps set by ransomware gangs who are not aware they even exist. Websites and spam email campaigns with malicious payloads are the method that a company is infected.

Here are a few ways you can better protect your business from ransomware on the front-end:

  • Audits: Scan your systems to discover exploitable flaws and vulnerabilities with expert analysis, ransomware simulations, and penetration testing.
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM): Build systems and processes that ensure only the right people get access to vital pieces of data, adding another layer of protection to your security stack.
  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA): Require users to provide multiple verification factors (via phone calls, SMS, or push notifications) to access the system.
  • Detection: Monitor your systems to find breaches before they become broader problems.
  • Rapid Response: Quickly respond to threats to limit damages and mitigate the threats.
  • Firewalls: Monitor network traffic and prevent users from visiting malicious sites.
  • Email Security: Use technology to monitor the ins and outs of your email flow, scan attachments, and verify URLs.
  • Training: Train your employees on cybersecurity best practices so that they can appropriately use technology without compromising your business.

How to Recover from a Ransomware Attack

It’s often too late to plan a recovery strategy after a ransomware attack happens. At that point, you’re at the whim of the attacker, and you’ll often have to pay the ransom fee for just a chance at retrieving your data. The best course of action is to plan now (right now) how you’ll recover from a ransomware attack without paying a ransom.

Below, we’ll walk you through modern-day best practices for cyber resilience and recovery:

1. Develop a Comprehensive Cyber Resilience Strategy

Cybersecurity is important (there’s no doubt about that), but protection isn’t enough these days. No cybersecurity plan is bulletproof, and that’s why you need a cyber resilience strategy to take a more holistic approach to your digital protection.

Cyber resilience and cybersecurity have a lot in common. Cybersecurity focuses on providing a defense against hackers by mitigating threats and creating barriers to entry. Cyber resilience prioritizes the following:

  • Anticipate: Look for vulnerabilities using expert assessments and software to ensure you have top-notch protection and a tested plan.
  • Withstand: Implement systems and processes to protect your data. This includes endpoint detection and response, extended detection and response (XDR), employee training, MFA, and firewalls.
  • Recover: Monitor your systems and respond quickly to secure threats, protect your data, keep services online, and implement backups (ideally immutable backups) to restore data quickly.
  • Evolve: Upgrade your technology and systems to adapt to modern threats and prevent issues from hurting your business later.

This cyber resilience framework provides end-to-end protection for your business. Cyber resilience isn’t a one-and-done item on your checklist, nor is it an overnight transformation—but commitment and investment to this framework will ensure more holistic security for your digital assets and services.

2. Implement Immutable Backups

Data backups are important, but not all backups are created equally. Some provide you simply with a copy of your data—however, if they’re stored on the same system or have an easy-to-access recovery path, hackers can destroy your backup or recovery paths.

Backups aren’t a new concept, and attackers are well aware that most businesses have them in place. With this knowledge in mind, they often target backups to ensure they maintain the one-and-only copy of your data. Remember, they want to get paid, and that means they need you to be desperate and pay the ransom fee.

That’s why we recommend (and offer) immutable backup solutions. Immutable backups are copies of your data that can’t be modified, deleted, or encrypted. They’re unchangeable. Having an immutable backup that’s air-gapped from your business ensures attackers (even successful ones) can’t steal or destroy your data.

3. Restore and Recover Quickly

Create a plan (or find a partner) to restore and recover your backups quickly. While your systems are under attack or held hostage, your customers will likely experience service disruptions and outages. Implement your backups quickly to mitigate lost revenue and maintain your customers’ trust.

When you partner with Airiam, our team takes care of the ransomware incident response to activate your backups and restore everything as quickly as possible. Airiam monitors your systems to detect breaches and execute disaster recovery plans as fast as possible.

We also provide fully managed failover and failback solutions to keep your systems online. We keep your storage keys inaccessible to you so that bad actors who’ve breached your system (or your credentials) can’t access and delete your backups. Airiam uses flexible recovery paths to restore operations on your terms. We can perform the recovery onsite or help you recover via our secure cloud solution.

What’s the Expected Ransomware Recovery Time?

Your ransomware recovery time will depend on your protection plan and preparation. Negotiating with attackers could leave your systems down for weeks or months, whereas implementing a backup could restore your data in days.

According to Statista, the average length of interruption in the United States due to ransomware attacks is 20 days. Without a contingency plan or continuity solution, that could be an extremely long time. During a disruption like that, your customers might move on to different solutions, and their trust in your company will likely be irrevocably damaged.

Trust AirGapd™ to Help You Recover from Ransomware Attacks

AirGapd™ is our disaster recovery, cloud backup, and continuity solution. It provides you with a holistic protection plan to help you rapidly recover from ransomware attacks (and other disasters) and get back on your feet.

Our incident response experts will work with your business to plan your continuity and backup strategy. We help monitor your systems and respond to threats immediately to mitigate damages and decrease downtime.

While most data backup solutions follow a 3-2-1 rule, we take it a step further with a 3-2-1-1 backup rule:

  • 3 copies of data
  • 2 different media types
  • 1 copy off-site
  • 1 copy- immutable

When it comes to recovery time, we don’t just hand you the keys to your data and leave you on your own. Our experts fully manage the restoration and recovery plans, doing everything possible to get your backups live.

Want to see how AirGapd™ can protect your business from modern-day ransomware attacks and other threats? Send us a note here, and let’s kick off the conversation.

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