The ransomware threat continues to evolve, and high-profile and extremely damaging ransomware infections are becoming increasingly common. Minimizing the cost and damage of these attacks to an organization requires rapid threat detection and response.
Ransomware, like most malware, is designed to infect a computer and remain undetected until it has achieved its objective. In the case of ransomware, the attacker’s goal is for the victim to only be aware of the infection when they receive the ransom demand.
Anti-ransomware solutions are designed to identify the infection earlier in the process, potentially before any damage is done. To do so, they use a variety of ransomware detection techniques to overcome ransomware’s stealth and defense evasion functionality.
Early detection is always important when dealing with a cyber attack. The earlier in the attack chain an incident is detected and remediated, the less opportunity that the attacker has to steal sensitive data or otherwise cause harm to the business.
For ransomware, early detection is even more important than most attacks because the damage done by ransomware may be irreversible. If ransomware encrypts data not included in a secure backup, then it may be irrecoverable even if the victim pays the ransom. Identifying and eradicating the ransomware infection before encryption begins is essential to minimizing its impact.
As ransomware has evolved, early detection has grown more vital. Modern ransomware variants commonly exfiltrate a company’s sensitive data before encrypting it. If the ransomware can be detected before this data theft occurs, then the company avoids a data breach that could be expensive and embarrassing.
A ransomware infection can be identified by a few different means. Some of the most common ransomware detection mechanisms include the following:
Signature-based detection is the simplest way to identify the presence of malware on a system. Malware signatures include information like file hashes, the domain names and IP addresses of command and control infrastructure, and other indicators that can uniquely identify a malware sample. Signature-based detection systems store a library of these signatures and compare them to each file entering or running on a system to see if it is malware.
However, signature-based detection is growing less and less useful. Signature-based detection has never been usable against novel malware because no signatures have been created for the malware variant. Today, ransomware groups commonly use unique versions of their malware (with different file hashes, command and control infrastructure, etc.) for each attack campaign, making signature-based detection ineffective.
Behavioral detection is another option for detecting the presence of ransomware on a system. Behavior-based detection algorithms can be designed to look for specific activities that are known to be malicious or to look for anomalous actions that differ from the norm.
Behavior-based ransomware detection takes advantage of the fact that ransomware has very unusual behavior. For example, ransomware’s encryption stage requires the malware to open many files on the system, read their contents, and then overwrite them with an encrypted version. This behavior can help with ransomware detection if an anti-ransomware solution monitored file operations or encryption operations and alerted on this unusual behavior.
Monitoring file operations is an endpoint-level form of behavior-based threat detection. However, ransomware can also be detected at the network level by looking for anomalous traffic that may indicate a ransomware infection or malware in general.
In the past, ransomware performed few network operations before starting encryption to help hide its presence on the system. However, modern ransomware steals and exfiltrates sensitive data before encrypting it to provide the attacker with additional leverage when convincing the victim to pay the ransom demand.
Carrying out a large-scale data breach requires the ability to send large amounts of data from inside the network to outside systems under the attacker’s control. While the ransomware may try to conceal these data transfers, they might create anomalous network traffic that can be detected and traced back to the ransomware present on the system.
If ransomware has presented its ransom message on a target system, then the damage has already been done. This only occurs once the ransomware has exfiltrated any stolen data and encrypted the data on the system.
The best way to mitigate the impact of a ransomware infection is to prevent it from achieving its goals. Check Point Harmony Endpoint has market-leading threat detection capabilities as confirmed by the 2021 MITRE Engenuity ATT&CK Evaluations.
To learn more about the ransomware threat and other cyber risks facing your organization, check out the 2021 Cyber Attack Trends report. You’re also welcome to sign up for a free trial to see Harmony Endpoint’s ransomware detection capabilities for yourself.