How to Protect Against Ransomware Attacks on Your Cloud Storage

Even with its advanced technology, the cloud isn’t impervious to ransomware attacks. Learn how to protect your data and what to do if an attack occurs.

Ransomware attacks on cloud storage are becoming increasingly common and destructive. This form of malware unexpectedly encrypts an organization’s or user’s key files and renders them unreadable. In recent years, ransomware has become more pernicious, with hackers and criminals demanding payouts in the form of cryptocurrency or other difficult-to-trace electronic payment instruments in exchange for decrypting valuable data and/or restoring essential services. Organizations in many sectors have been affected, disrupting business operations and destabilizing critical infrastructure. Companies relying on legacy systems are especially at risk, as such systems may not be maintained or up to date with patches and upgrades. 

The nature of cloud storage makes it a tempting target for ransomware attacks because of its omnipresence, connections, and accessibility. Fortunately, there are multiple measures organizations can put in place to defend against ransomware attacks. For cloud storage, a ransomware prevention strategy is an essential component of an overall cybersecurity posture. 

Why is Ransomware Protection Important for the Cloud?

Ransomware protection for cloud storage is essential for keeping files intact, accessible, and safe. Unfortunately, ransomware attacks and attacker strategies are evolving to become more intelligent and insidious while tapping into high-value, cloud-based enterprise data lakes. For most organizations, integral, accessible, and secure data is fundamental to business continuity. Inaccessible, incomplete, and insecure data can lead to severe recovery challenges such as: 

  • Vital customer information is unavailable 
  • Data needed for operations is gone or inaccurate 
  • Important electronic transactions are unable to be completed 

Very quickly, business (or elements of business) can grind to a halt, which is usually the goal of a cloud ransomware attack. 

Pillars of Ransomware Protection 

Any strategy for protection against ransomware integrates multiple layers of defense. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology has laid out five functional pillars of a comprehensive and successful cybersecurity defense program for private- and public-sector organizations. These are:

Identify 

Identify systems and processes that are essential to your operations to invest in added protection against disaster. 

Protect 

Fine tune the protective measures being taken for essential processes, software, or data. 

Detect 

Lean on Cloud DLP to identify long-term data protection strategies for information that might appeal to ransomware attacks. 

Respond 

Develop a disaster recovery plan based on the identified systems and associated protective measures. 

Recover 

Develop a cybersecurity resilience program to back up core programs and software. 

Identify

The systems and processes that have the greatest chance of being targeted by ransomware must be identified. What would the business impact be if these systems or processes were unable to operate? Identifying these systems and processes will help with prioritizing and focusing on managing risk.

When it comes to cloud security, it’s better to be informed about risks than to avoid them. Being thoroughly informed about risks will help you confront security vulnerabilities you currently face, rather than simply managing risks you’re already aware of. 

Cloud service providers often make this risk-informed approach more efficient and easier for you by creating and maintaining the tools and controls you need to mitigate security threats. Tools now exist that allow discovery, monitoring, and analysis of all your organization’s assets in one place for the purposes of security analytics, IT operations, auditing, and governance. 

Protect 

Establish safeguards that will ensure the delivery of critical services operations processes to contain or limit the impact of cybersecurity attacks or incidents. Such safeguards could include frameworks such as zero-trust, which segments environments, protects and authenticates device integrity and user access, authenticates executables, integrates endpoint protection, filters malware and spam, reduces phishing risks, patches consistently, and provides continuous controls assurance. A few examples of strategies and products to consider incorporating include: 

Cloud-native, inherently secure email 

Email is at the center of many ransomware attacks. Email can be exploited to phish for credentials to use for illegitimate network access or directly distribute ransomware binaries. It should be noted that legacy on-premises email systems are particularly vulnerable in this manner. Using email with phishing and malware protection allows you to quarantine emails, defend against anomalous attachments, and protect against spoofed inbound emails. 

Extra protection against account takeovers 

User accounts that are compromised permit ransomware attackers to gain footholds in an organization, performing reconnaissance, obtaining unauthorized data access, and installing malicious binaries. Wherever possible, it’s recommended to use products that provide extra account takeover protection and detect anomalous user activity. 

Zero-trust access controls that limit attackers’ access and lateral movement 

A zero-trust access model grants authorized users point-in-time access only to individual apps and not an entire network. Permissions are continuously checked to test whether ongoing access is still permitted. This stops lateral movements across a network that attackers use to look for sensitive data and expand infections. Remote Desktop Protocol access to resources is one of the most common methods that ransomware attackers use to acquire access to insecure legacy server systems. 

Enterprise threat protections 

Safe browser technology can warn users about millions of malware downloads every week. Threat protection can prevent infections by previously undiscovered malware—including ransomware—via deep scanning of files and real-time URL checks. 

Endpoints that are designed with security in mind 

It’s best to have as many users as possible running operating systems with low on-device footprints. Where possible, these operating systems should be read only, with verified booting, sandboxing, safe browsing, and a constantly invisibly updating OS. If possible, don’t rely on legacy devices, which have larger vulnerability gaps. 

Detect 

Define ways to continuously monitor your organization to identify all possible cybersecurity incidents or events. In terms of ransomware, this can include keeping an eye out for intrusion attempts, installing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions for detecting leaks of sensitive organizational data, and scanning for signs of ransomware propagation and execution. 

Being able to see and inhibit nefarious activity connected to ransomware as quickly as possible is crucial for stopping business disruptions. There are apps that provide threat detection solutions for identifying all threats, including ransomware, at unrivaled scale and speed. You should focus on active threats in your environment and try to accelerate your response times to them. 

Use DLP technologies to detect data that could appeal to ransomware attackers. With Cloud DLP, you’ll be able to detect which (if any) sensitive data is accessible to the public and whether any access credentials are contained in exposed code. 

Respond 

Form an incident response team in your organization that can limit and mitigate the impact of a ransomware event. Invest company time and resources into developing a disaster recovery plan that can help support a proactive response immediately after enduring a ransomware attack.  

If a ransomware attack occurs, always secure your internal communications with your teams and any external communications with your customers and partners. 

Recover 

Develop a cybersecurity resilience program with a backup strategy to restore core assets and systems affected by ransomware incidents. It’s critical to support recovery timelines so you can lessen the impact of any cyber event and get back to running your business. 

If you’ve been attacked by ransomware, you should identify a point-in-time backup image that you’re sure isn’t infected. Being able to identify such a point will allow for quick recovery of your data. Recovering data rapidly means you can resume business functioning expeditiously. Files that are synced with remote copies may be able to be recovered more readily than those files that aren’t synced. 

In planning a defensive posture against ransomware attacks, consider these questions: 

  • Does your organization have a solid plan for executing in the event of a ransomware attack? If so, what does the plan entail? Be sure you have a strong partnership with cloud providers based on a common understanding of your security and risk objectives. 
  • Is your organization’s system continuously patched and up to date? 
  • What steps are you taking to defend your organization’s systems, data, and employees against malware? 
  • Are you watching your organization’s systems for data leaks and/or other irregularities? 
  • Do you regularly move system and data backups to immutable, high-assurance locations? Are you testing the backups to make sure they’re working correctly? This testing should include periodic restoration of key data and assets. 
  • Do you have a comprehensive zero-trust approach, especially one that incorporates strong authentication of employees whenever they access data? 
  • What drills, if any, are you conducting to test your organization’s response to cybersecurity incidents and events and overall risk management? 

How to Establish a Ransomware Prevention Strategy for Your Cloud Storage 

Guarding against ransomware attacks is critical for all organizations. Establishing best practices and answering the above questions are only the beginning of building a mature and resilient cybersecurity posture. 

Remember that you shouldn’t focus on just one single line of defense. Your cybersecurity program should enable you to detect, identify, respond to, recover from, and prevent multiple kinds of attacks. You need a wide range of solutions from a highly resilient and battle-tested platform that works with your business in an integrated way across many elements. 

Train Users of Shared Cloud Storage on How to Identify Ransomware Threats 

It’s valuable to train your employees to recognize strategies used by ransomware attackers and to ensure that all countermeasures for securing data in the cloud are taken. Examples of ransomware attack strategies include stealing data prior to encrypting it, threatening to leak this data, and executing distributed-denial-of-service attacks to distract and occupy security teams while seeking to accomplish other goals such as leaking data or encrypting business-critical data. 

Equip Your Business with the Best Cloud Solutions 

Cloud solutions such as Seagate® Lyve™ Cloud can offer added protection against ransomware attacks via object immutability and best-in-class data-at-rest protection. A built-for-multicloud storage-as-a-service solution with predictable, capacity-based pricing, Seagate Lyve Cloud is compatible with Amazon Web Services (AWS) S3. 

Invest Time and Resources in Updates 

Managers should strive to stay on top of all device and cloud software and system updates. 

Prioritize Cloud Backup 

In addition, it’s important to continuously back up cloud storage, including versioning and organizing information in data lakes. In this respect, Seagate Lyve Cloud’s compatibility with AWS S3 is especially helpful. 

Integrate Ransomware Recovery into Your Business Continuity Plans 

Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are critical for organizations, and increasingly, it’s essential for these plans to integrate ransomware-focused instructions in case such attacks occur. 

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