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4 Strategies for Identifying and Stopping Common Ransomware Behavior

If you are reading this, you already understand that knowing how to recognize ransomware is crucial for preventing ransomware attacks. However, knowing where to begin when detecting ransomware within your IT environment can be the overwhelming part. Start with these four key detection and prevention strategies to identify common signatures, understand how ransomware spreads, monitor behavior, and trap bad actors.

Ransomware is so effective and devastating because it can encrypt files and sensitive data on your company desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, bringing your business operations to a halt. When faced with ransom demands, no organization wants to make the impossible choice of paying the ransom. By understanding how to detect ransomware on a network, you’ll be able to ward off a ransomware attack before it begins—and avoid financial and reputational damage in the process

Early Detection Is Crucial

When dealing with a ransomware-infected device on your network there are several suspicious activities that you can look for when detecting ransomware on a network. In this article, we’ll discuss four ransomware detection techniques to strengthen your organization’s network security.

1. Look for Common Ransomware Signatures

Once ransomware is inside your IT environment, several methods exist to identify its presence. Signature-based detection is one of the most common ways to detect ransomware on a computer.

Essentially, signature-based detection generates a “hash” of all of the applications on a computer. A hash is a string generated by a complex mathematical algorithm that converts a program’s source code into a unique output for each program. Thus, if two programs have the same hash or signature, they are likely to have the same source code, even if they are named differently.

How to solve the problem: These common signatures have obvious benefits for the question of how to detect ransomware on a PC. If an application has the same hash as a known strain of ransomware, then it should be quarantined immediately for further analysis. However, this approach has limitations, too: making even small changes to the source code can result in a different hash, allowing the ransomware to go undetected.

2. Understand How Ransomware Spreads

Ransomware can’t magically appear on your network; it needs to exploit a vulnerability in your IT environment (whether technological or human). Knowing how ransomware spreads is critical for how to detect a ransomware attack. Below are the most common attack vectors for ransomware:

  • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) software lets users access and control another computer remotely. If an RDP instance is left exposed, attackers can take advantage of this vulnerability to install ransomware on the device.
  • Phishing emails: Many ransomware attackers use phishing emails and other social engineering techniques to trick users into downloading malicious files. These emails work by imitating a trusted third party, such as a company or government entity.
  • Exploit kits: An exploit kit is a program on a compromised website that detects security holes in a user’s browser and then uses them to install ransomware and other malware. Third-party plugins such as Flash, Java, and Silverlight, and even Wordpress website plugins are common sources of vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

How to solve the problem: Ensure there are no ports left unprotected or open. Train your employees to recognize phishing behavior. Ensure your plugins are patched and up-to-date, or find an alternative solution to using those with high vulnerability.

3. Monitor for Strange Behavior

After signature-based detection, the next line of defense against a ransomware attack or data breach is behavior-based detection. The list of actions to potentially look for includes:

  • File renames: When it begins to encrypt data, ransomware will often rename files it has already encrypted. The WannaCry ransomware strain, for example, used the .wncry extension to rename encrypted files. A large number of renamed files in a short period of time is a strong indication that ransomware is at work — and it may not be long before you’re asked for a ransom payment.
  • Traffic analysis: Ransomware sometimes needs to “phone home,” communicating with the attackers to receive instructions. Examining your organization’s network traffic logs can identify suspicious activity, such as a device connecting to unknown servers or malicious websites.
  • API analysis: You can often identify ransomware, Trojans, and other malware by the suspicious API (application programming interface) calls they make. For example, the GetWindowDC call in the Windows API is sometimes used by malicious software to capture the device’s active window and steal information.

How to solve the problem: To identify suspicious behavior, continuously compare the current network activity against a baseline of normal historical behavior to identify activity that is unusual or occurring more frequently than normal. Hint: You will first need to compile this historical behavior so that you have something to compare new activity against.

X Factor File #101 shows that when a third-party mobile app for patient interaction opens new ports and system vulnerabilities, the UncommonX platform detects it immediately, and our managed SOC team acts fast to contain the issue—before a breach could occur.

4. Deploy Strategic Honeypots in the Network

Last but not least, one effective tactic for detecting ransomware is creating a decoy or “honeypot” for the attackers. When ransomware first infects a device, it performs scans to understand the network hierarchy and the location of potentially valuable data.

How to solve the problem: Create a server or file repository that your organization’s users cannot access. This will ensure it sees little activity. If you receive a notification that a file on this honeypot server/file has been accessed, there’s a good chance that malicious software is at work within your environment.

How to Start Detecting Ransomware

Now that you understand four key ways to detect and prevent a ransomware attack, the next step is implementation. While anti-ransomware and anitvirus software can help, what you really need are a team of experts constantly monitoring your environment and the notifications from the software. If you do not have that team in-house, you need a partner who can help you prevent ransomware attacks.

That’s exactly why UncommonX has created its patented MDR/XDR platform, and its 24/7 SOC. The UncommonX platform helps our clients with everything from protecting against cyber threats—including ransomware—to reacting and recovering after an IT security incident. Our 24/7 SOC team can serve as an extension of your in-house IT team to help with setup, monitoring, and remediation.

Want to see how our MDR/XDR can help defend against ransomware and other cyberattacks? Get in touch with our team of experts today to discuss your business goals and requirements and to see a demo of our MDR/XDR solution.

About the Author

Rich Pasewark — CEO, Board Director — Rich brings over 20 years of experience as an executive leader within the technology space with a core focus of aligning product, market requirements, and customer experience to define, implement and execute the company's macro strategy.

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