Ransomware Targets Business Community

Learn more about this cybercrime and precautions
to help protect your company or organization.

Initially, ransomware criminals targeted personal computers. Now, they are focusing on government entities, nonprofit organizations and businesses of all sizes. For example, ransomware attacks have forced hospitals to turn away patients and gas pipelines to shut down, leaked confidential information at law firms and police departments, and left multinational manufacturers with no other option than to shut down manufacturing production.

Although schools, hospitals and government entities have been recent victims, no business is immune to these attacks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ransomware criminals who focus on remote services and their vulnerabilities discovered a wealth of new opportunities thanks to work-from-home policies. That’s why it’s important to know how to identify ransomware attacks and to discover how you can protect yourself.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that attempts to prevents users from accessing data by encrypting it with a cryptographic key that is known only to the hacker1. The data — which is typically critical to business or system’s operations — is unusable until the victim pays a ransom. A pop-up message on the locked screen notifies the victim of the ransom’s terms. In some cases, the hacker threatens to sell the encrypted data.

Verizon estimates that in 2020, ransomware attacks accounted for 27% of all malware activity. This is a 20% increase from 20192. These attacks can result in:

  • Temporary or permanent loss of sensitive information, personal files and data.
  • Financial losses related to the restoration of systems and files.
  • Disruption to business operations that can negatively impact people.
  • Negative reputational impact for businesses/organizations

Ransomware is openly marketed on the dark web. To best position their attack, crime groups penetrate networks to perform reconnaissance, which can intensify the impact on the victim and, consequently, potentially maximize the ransom. These attackers are professional, organized criminals, and according to PNC Enterprise Technology & Security, they use ransoms to continuously develop better attack tools and talent.

Ransoms

The FBI doesn’t recommend paying ransom to any criminals because:

  • Criminals don’t always provide decryption keys.
  • The same or other cybercriminals might repeatedly target you.
  • This may encourage more ransomware crime.
  • You might incur fines and civil penalties for violating the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) laws, which prohibit transactions with a sanctioned entity.

A post-event investigation is also recommended. This will help to determine the mode of infection, strengthen your preventative controls and improve your incident response plan.

REMINDER: If you receive a suspicious email or text that claims to be from PNC, forward it to PNC Cyber Defense at abuse@pnc.com, and include background information in your email.

For more information, visit the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center.

Take Precautions

The best defense is prevention. The tips below, while not all-inclusive, can help protect your business and personal devices from attack:

  • Install the Russian keyboard option in your Windows system – Some Russian malware gangs program their malware to check for the presence of Russian (or other Cyrillic) keyboards on the system. If they find it, they may not attack that system. While not a guarantee, this is a simple step you can take, for free, that will not impede your use of your system in any way:
    • Hit the Windows button and “X” at the same time
    • Select “Settings” then “Time and Language” then “Language”
    • Scroll to the Russian or other Cyrillic option.
    • Pick one, then reboot.
  • Maintain offline, encrypted backups of data, including system images and configurations. Test your backup data and files regularly — after all, there’s no need to pay ransom for data that’s accessible via backup.
  • Install software updates and patches as soon as possible.
  • Ensure that antivirus and anti-malware software is set to automatically scan and update.
  • Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, including strong passwords and multifactor authentication.
  • Educate employees on social engineering and phishing, including how to spot red flags and report suspicious activity.
  • Restrict internet access. Use a proxy server for Internet access, and implement ad-blocking software. Restrict access to common ransomware entry points, such as social networking websites.
  • Use a secure email gateway/system to detect and block malicious emails, flagging external emails to alert employees of potential spoofing.
  • Block all unauthorized software from executing on all devices and servers.
  • Conduct regular vulnerability scanning and perform penetration testing to find and patch vulnerabilities.
  • Apply a policy of “least privilege” to all systems and services; users can only access required platforms.
  • Monitor your server, network and backup systems to detect unusual file access activities and network activity.
  • Implement Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) policy and verification to lower risk of spoofed or modified emails from valid domains.

Methods of Attack

Attackers have many methods of delivering malware, including:

  • Phishing emails:
    An email recipient opens a malicious attachment or clicks on a compromised link.
  • Drive-by download:
    A compromised website downloads malware onto your device without your knowledge.
  • Strategic attacks: These attacks target software vulnerabilities.
  • Remote desktop protocol compromise: A user logs on to a computer remotely, and hackers use brute force methods and credentials which they purchased on the dark web.

 


Responding to an Attack

If you ever experience a ransomware attack, don’t panic, take these steps:

  • Disconnect the infected system from the network to contain the spread.
  • Determine if a decryption key may be available; other organizations may have investigated similar malware.
  • Restore files from regularly maintained backups.
  • Notify your financial institution, customers and third parties that might have been affected by the attack.
  • Contact a cybersecurity expert or consulting firm
  • Reporting the attack! Contact a local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Office and/or file a complaint the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Important Legal Disclosures & Information

  1. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), "Small Business Cybersecurity Corner Glossary," accessed May 17, 2021, https://www.nist.gov/itl/smallbusinesscyber/cybersecurity-basics/glossary

  2. 2020 Verizon, “2020 Data Breach Investigations Report,” accessed May 17, 2021, https://enterprise.verizon.com/resources/reports/2020/2020-data-breach-investigations-report.pdf

These articles are for general information purposes only and are not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting or financial advice. PNC urges its customers to do independent research and to consult with security, financial and legal professionals before making any financial decisions. This site may provide reference to internet sites as a convenience to our readers. While PNC endeavors to provide resources that are reputable and safe, we cannot be held responsible for the information, products or services obtained on such sites and will not be liable for any damages arising from your access to such sites. The content, accuracy, opinions expressed and links provided by these resources are not investigated, verified, monitored or endorsed by PNC.

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