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How Is Ransomware Detected?

Ransomware represents a sophisticated and ever-evolving digital threat that wreaks havoc on data security. And it’s a growing threat, with well over three-fourths of respondents to one survey indicating a high or very high level of concern about the risk of attack. What’s worse, the number of ransomware attacks throughout the U.S. nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021.

To put the widespread threat into context, the FBI says a new ransomware attack is occurring every 11 seconds. Sadly, it’s virtually impossible to fully prevent ransomware attacks—making quick detection the key to mitigating potential disaster. That’s why it’s so important for companies to consider Ransomware Protection as a ServiceTM, or RPaaSTM, as a vital measure for keeping systems secure and preventing catastrophe.

How Is a Ransomware Attack Detected?

Sophisticated ransomware attacks can be difficult to detect, there are a few distinct methods: detection by signature, behavior, or abnormal traffic.

  • Detection by Signature: Like a thumbprint, each instance of malware has its own “signature,” which in this context essentially refers to identifying information like domain names or IP addresses the attack originates from. Signature-based detection works by comparing active file names and locations to those of known threats. When an anomaly is detected, it may indicate the presence of malware.
  • Detection by Behavior: Ransomware doesn’t behave like you would expect a piece of software to. Basically, ransomware embeds itself with computer systems by exploiting vulnerabilities and replacing system files with encrypted versions. This can ultimately paralyze operations until a “ransom” is paid to restore access to affected files. Behavior-based detection simply monitors for unusual activity and raises the red flag whenever strange behavior is detected.
  • Detection by Abnormal Traffic: As an extension of behavior-based detection, this method monitors network-level traffic, typically looking for large data transfers that are occurring to outside systems. This activity would likely indicate a ransomware-in-progress, as data is being stolen and encrypted.

Like the Trojan Horse, these attackers can embed their malicious files deep within perfectly legitimate-seeming software programs. When ransomware is present, even an action as simple as clicking on a link in an email can become a vulnerability—a point of entry for malware.

Can an Antivirus Detect Ransomware?

Yes, and also no. One of the main features of industry-leading antivirus programs is that they catalog all known threats, so detection and mitigation can happen quickly. This, of course, only applies to recognized threats.

Some antivirus programs include ransomware decryption tools that offer a certain amount of protection. They’re also designed to detect suspicious activity, whether that means noting a spike in data transfers or unrecognized sources of traffic or learning about user preferences to understand which programs are safe and which might be suspect.

Why Is Ransomware Not Detected by Antivirus?

Not all ransomware will be detected by antivirus software, mainly due to the constant emergence of brand new threats. Unfortunately, the bad actors who create and deploy ransomware pay close attention to ransomware detection methods as they emerge, so that they can try to stay one step ahead.

How Is Machine Learning Used in Malware Detection?

The future of malware detection and prevention is bright, with researchers and cybersecurity experts developing and applying methods of ransomware detection using machine learning (ML). This in-depth Journal of Network and Computer Applications study explores the growing role of ML in researching, detecting, and classifying ransomware attacks. To put it simply, machine learning takes detection methods to exponential new levels by automating the types of investigative processes described in the three methods of ransomware detection discussed above.

Can You Trace a Ransomware Attack?

Due to the increased use of cryptocurrency in ransomware attacks, tracing a ransomware attack can be difficult. That’s not to say attempting to trace ransomware attacks and hold perpetrators accountable isn’t a priority. In fact, it’s recently been a point of focus for the federal government.

In response to this evolving threat, the U.S. government has outlined an aggressive, two-pronged approach to fight the scourge of ransomware. It involves a ramping-up of how the proceeds of paid ransoms get back to the attack’s perpetrators, and bounties as high as $10 million for any information that helps authorities hold the criminals accountable for their tactics.

How Can Companies Prevent Ransomware?

As mentioned before, preventing ransomware entirely is a near-impossible task, since attackers are constantly developing new methods for identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities.

One recommendation is to perform regular data backups (if you’re not already). Establishing this simple habit provides a few benefits. First, it helps ensure that sensitive data won’t be entirely lost in the event of a major ransomware attack. Ransomware can spread quickly, infecting entire networks and systems, which could spell catastrophe for companies with poor data backup practices. With that in mind, then, it’s also important to keep mission-critical software up-to-date, and practice safe internet habits like avoiding shady-seeming sites and being careful not to engage with phishing attacks.

You can also perform penetration testing on a regular basis, to identify and shore up any system vulnerabilities and improve your chances of quick ransomware detection.

To prevent a ransomware attack from spreading, the first thing you should do is work to identify the scope of the attack. The earlier an attack is detected, the better-positioned you’ll be to take quick action in response to protect your data and systems access. Make sure to document everything you can about the attack—including its signature and how you detected it—so you can report it to the proper authorities.

What Is Ransomware Protection as a ServiceTM?

Our final recommendation for comprehensive ransomware protection and detection is to consider partnering with a company like InterVision that provides highly-sophisticated Ransomware Protection as a ServiceTM (RPaaSTM). We offer the industry’s most comprehensive RPaaSTM solution, empowering businesses to take control of their cybersecurity and make sure the bad guys don’t win.

Our RPaaS methodologies help protect your business, avoid ransom costs, simplify operations and recover your data. It’s easy to get started. To learn more about our end-to-end ransomware protection, view or download our RPaaS Service Brief, and then contact us with any questions.