How Zero Trust Can Help Defend Against Ransomware Attacks

The plague that is ransomware is not new, but over the past year, there have been a number of successful ransomware attacks that have made the issue a hot topic even for the general public. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware attack damage is predicted to reach over $20 billion by the end of 2021.

Source: SpinBackup

From attacks on healthcare providers to technology organizations, no industry is safe from ransomware attacks lately, and organizations need to implement the proper security measures to avoid their security teams experiencing attack fatigue. While the number of successful ransomware attacks has helped organizations gain an increased awareness of this idea, ransomware continues to plague more and more organizations’ networks.

The Ransomware Puzzle

Ransomware attacks have shown that the result of becoming a victim is that you cannot avoid a negative outcome. You either pay up or suffer an enormous productivity decline, as resources are tied up and unavailable. Recently the security community is also seeing bigger implications on organizations from ransomware.  

With every new successful attack on a different organization, it is becoming more clear that attackers are also looking to exploit intellectual property, sensitive data, and resources that are not encrypted. This means every organization that has experienced ransomware has an important decision to make: Do they pay the ransom fee or do they try to fix it on their own? Sadly it’s a much more difficult task to address exploitation yourself, so most organizations end up paying the ransom. 

You would think once a ransom is paid everything would go back to normal, but actually it’s not so simple. IT teams need to spend days or weeks to recover the resources and data that was exploited and in some cases make sure attackers can’t continue to abuse the security gap in the future. The increasing number of organizations impacted has forced many to take the initiative and get proactive before they’re targeted as a potential victim. 

Defending Against Ransomware Attacks

No matter the kind of attack, organizations’ security strategies and goals should always be to prevent, assess irks and educate employees on how their security hygiene presents a risk. The latter idea to educate employees is perhaps the most crucial. In most cases, employees are the easy entry point for attackers when exploiting an organization, due to the past difficulty with balancing the access required for productive work and the security limits required to truly trust that users can’t accidentally cause damage.

Organizations need to invest in the security hygiene of their employees because the ROI of education (the prevention of potential insider breaches) is priceless. The importance of security hygiene is crucial when fighting against ransomware attacks particularly, as they often come from phishing emails. Once the employees are equipped with the knowledge to recognize threats, social engineering tactics and email attacks your network is already more secure – even if nothing’s changed on paper.

To supplement and balance this crucial idea, it’s also good to limit users’ access to resources and define specific network segments where individual roles, devices, or locations, for example, are permissioned. This mindset fits in perfectly with the Zero Trust Network Access model, which is easy to achieve with a couple of pieces of common technology.

Implementing Zero Trust 

The ideal security strategy against ransomware must start with a Zero Trust model. Organizations that adopt the Zero Trust model can experience the right mix of authentication and micro-segmentation to create a much more challenging barrier for attackers to deal with when targeting any organization.

By utilizing Zero Trust and its core foundations of micro-segmentation and enforced authentication via Identity Providers, IT managers can not only fully visualize networks and resources to ensure relevant least-privilege and secure access to corporate resources, but also control all aspects of network security across cloud and on-premise applications and services. Zero Trust provides the visibility, control, and threat inspection capabilities necessary to protect networks from ransomware, targeted attacks, and the unauthorized exfiltration of sensitive data.

Every organization looking to establish secure “trust boundaries” according to the Zero Trust security model can improve their IT security posture through:

  • Network Segmentation
    This allows organizations to define internal trust boundaries to granularly control traffic flow, enable secure network access and implement network monitoring. It reduces the attack surface and provides a distributed security solution that operates as a holistic threat protection framework.

  • Trust Zones
    Trust Zones establish distinct areas of IT infrastructure where resources operate at the same trust and similar functionality such as protocols and types of transactions. This minimizes the number of allowed pathways and limits the potential for malicious threats to access sensitive resources.

  • Infrastructure Management
    Zero Trust segmentation relies on the ability to efficiently monitor networks through centralized management. This allows data to be processed by analysis tools and technologies that may enhance network visibility, detect unknown threats, or support compliance reporting.

Looking Ahead

As we see more organizations adopt IoT and mobile edge devices it will increase the attack surface, which will lead to an escalation of ransomware attacks. Organizations that implement the full Zero Trust model can achieve a wide safety net. 

While no organization will ever be entirely safe, the transition to Zero Trust will help raise the lowest hanging fruit with relative ease, and significantly boost the chances that you will be out of reach when hackers come knocking.