What are the stages of a Ransomware Attack?

icon Posted by: Hasan Sameer
icon December 14, 2022

In Brief: 

What is a Ransomware Attack? 

Ransomware is a kind of malware that enables a hacker to possess, lock, and encrypt a victim’s database including important files and other digital assets. Then attackers put forward their demands (monetary in most cases) to set the data free in return. Otherwise, they threaten to make the victim’s critical data public by publishing it on the dark web or other such platforms. Apparently, paying the ransom often seems to be the easy way out. But in most cases, the victim is likely to be attacked again after paying the ransom. Therefore, it is not a long-term solution. The best way to protect your infrastructure against ransomware is to tighten your security perimeter and spread adequate security awareness among your staff that handles critical data and operations.  

100%

is the factor by which ransomware attacks increased in 2021 alone.

95%

of ransomware attacks tried to affect the backup repositories as well.

93%

of corporate networks are penetrable by ransomware attacks, according to a study conducted in December 2021.

50%

of small and medium businesses are not having a full-fledged cybersecurity program to protect their IT infrastructure.

7 Stages of a Ransomware Attack 

Ransomware is quite similar to what we know as kidnapping. The only difference here is that instead of a person, criminals hold your digital assets hostage. A ransomware attack operates through a very simple mechanism of making your data hostage and releasing it in return for a ransom. Most of the time, attackers demand money as ransom. But there are some instances where a ransomware attack is executed to fulfill other agendas. Let us now have a look at the seven stages of a ransomware attack. 

Stage 1: Initiation  

This is the stage where hackers set up ransomware to target your systems. There are several options in front of the attackers to choose from. It can be done by either sending phishing emails, setting up malicious websites, exploiting weaknesses in RDP connections, or attacking software vulnerabilities directly. The vulnerability to these attack vectors is directly proportional to the number of users connected to your network. The more users, the more will be the chances of landing on phishing emails, malicious websites, or combinations of these. 

Stage 2: Instantiation 

In this stage, the malware draws a communication line back to the attacker. This starts once the ransomware has infiltrated your systems. This communication line allows the attacker to download additional malware into the system. Then it lies low and dormant for a while and looks for the perfect time to unleash the attack.  Methods like Cyber Security Pen testing can detect the malware at this stage. But you need to be lucky enough to be conducting such a test at this point of time.  

Stage 3: Activation  

This is the transition stage where the attack vector starts to show its violent instincts. Hackers remotely execute the attack by activating the ransomware. They can do it any time they find you completely off guard. The malware starts doing its tricks and it may take you a while to even notice that something is wrong. 

Stage 4: Encryption  

This is where the ransomware holds your data hostage by locking or encrypting it. In most ransomware attacks there is a lock screen and in corporate cases, there is high-level encryption. However, this varies with the type of ransomware. Different ransomware variants use different encryption methods. To prevent your recovery or escape route, hackers target your backups and virtual machines as well.  

Stage 5: Ransom Demand 

After your data is encrypted, you are left with three choices: lose the data, recover from a replica or backup, or pay the ransom. The most feasible option for the majority of victims is to pay the ransom. Attackers present their demands against you. You are fed the instructions to follow in order to set your data and systems free.  

Stage 6: Recovery or Ransom  

This is the decision time. Organizations either comply with the demands to get back control of their systems and data, or they go the other way. However, the recovery option is only for those who have a recovery plan in place. Either way, they try to get rid of the attack and try to put their systems back online to continue with their business operations. 

Stage 7: Clean Up 

Even after paying the ransom or recovering with the help of the backup or replica, the danger is not yet eliminated. There might be malicious files or codes still present within your systems. You need to conduct a thorough scan and remove all the residual of ransomware.  

Before you Go! 

  • You must use methods like Cyber Security Pen testing on a frequent basis to find vulnerabilities within your systems that might lead to incidents like ransomware attacks. 
  • There are Cyber Security Consultant Companies out there to help you with the prevention of these attacks.  

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