Ransomware Reinfections: A Growing Threat in 2023 and How to Defend Against Them

In the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, ransomware reigns as one of the most menacing adversaries for organizations worldwide. Its capacity to paralyze operations, compromise sensitive data, and inflict financial ruin has made it the scourge of modern businesses. However, as 2023 unfolds, the troubling trend of ransomware reinfections is becoming increasingly prevalent, posing a dire challenge for IT teams. 

In this article, we delve into the issue of ransomware reinfections, exploring the reasons behind their occurrence and highlighting the critical importance of proper remediation. We will also discuss the specific challenges faced by smaller IT-constrained organizations and introduce a potential solution to bolster your defense against ransomware attacks. 

Ransomware’s Relentless Surge in 2023

The year 2023 has brought with it an alarming rise in ransomware attacks. Small and large businesses alike have found themselves in the crosshairs of cybercriminals. Notably, many organizations that fall victim to ransomware are experiencing repeated attacks, creating a grave concern within the cybersecurity community. 

For instance, consider the case of a small trade’s contractor in Alberta, Canada. In November 2022, they fell victim to ransomware, and despite initial remediation efforts, they were struck again in December, with just 47 days between the two attacks. Unfortunately, their story is far from unique. 

According to a report from the Malwarebytes Threat Intelligence team, US organizations experienced a staggering 1,460 ransomware attacks between July 2022 and June 2023, accounting for 43 percent of all reported ransomware incidents globally. The number of monthly ransomware attacks increased by 75 percent in the second half of the year, with nearly three-quarters of US organizations falling victim to ransomware in 2023. 

While ransomware’s impact knows no bounds, smaller organizations with limited IT resources find themselves particularly vulnerable. A Devolutions report on IT security for SMBs revealed that 66 percent of small businesses reported one or more ransomware attacks this year, marking a 44 percent increase in just three years. 

The financial repercussions are dire. In 2022, more than two-thirds of organizations that reported ransomware losses incurred costs ranging from $1 million to a staggering $10 million. With such substantial financial and reputational consequences at stake, understanding the reasons behind ransomware reinfections becomes paramount. 

The Role of Remediation in Ransomware Reinfections 

Ransomware reinfections are not random occurrences but are often a result of improper remediation. To comprehend how this happens, we must first understand the lifecycle of a typical ransomware attack. 

In many cases, ransomware attacks are not isolated incidents but rather a culmination of an ongoing network compromise. Threat actors gain initial access by exploiting vulnerabilities, stealing credentials, deploying malware, or establishing hidden entry points within the network. These entry points serve as hidden doors, which, if left unaddressed, can be exploited by cybercriminals for future attacks. 

Once inside the network, threat actors systematically search for vulnerabilities, escalate privileges, reconfigure security controls, steal additional credentials, and exfiltrate sensitive data. If they remain undetected, they eventually deploy ransomware, encrypting data and systems, rendering them inaccessible to employees. 

Ransomware, as revealed by the 2023 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), is a common element in the majority of security incidents. In this context, ransomware serves as the endpoint of a long, often unnoticed, chain of events. 

The key to understanding ransomware reinfections is recognizing that, even after an initial attack is mitigated, subtle artifacts and reconfigurations may remain hidden within the network. These dormant elements can be reactivated by threat actors, allowing for subsequent attacks. In essence, ransomware reinfections are a direct consequence of incomplete or inadequate remediation efforts. 

Why Organizations Suffer Ransomware Reinfections

While the technical aspects of ransomware reinfections are clear, the underlying reasons are distinctly human. Smaller organizations with limited IT resources, budget constraints, and overburdened staff often place their faith in a multitude of complex security products. These products, while valuable, require proficient and well-rested IT teams to operate effectively. 

However, according to a study, only 36 percent of SMBs increased their security staff since the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, security fatigue affects 42 percent of businesses, impacting various aspects of cybersecurity, including authentication and incident notification. 

These challenges underscore the need for a different approach to cybersecurity for smaller IT-constrained organizations. 

Common Remediation Failures 

Understanding the most common remediation mistakes that lead to ransomware reinfections is essential for enhancing your cybersecurity posture. Many of these “failures” are not actual mistakes but rather oversights or hidden artifacts left unaddressed. Here are some of the most common remediation pitfalls: 

  • Tough-to-Detect or Remove Malware: After an attack, remnants of malware and related artifacts can linger, sometimes escaping detection. Persistent mechanisms like fileless malware, scripts, or droppers can evade remediation efforts. 
  • Failure to Act: Failing to patch vulnerabilities, neglecting password resets, not preserving log data, and lacking a comprehensive incident response plan can lead to recurrent attacks. 
  • Acting Too Fast: Hasty actions, such as immediate system mitigation or preemptively blocking cybercriminal infrastructure, can inadvertently worsen the situation. 
  • Paying the Ransom: Paying the ransom not only may fail to restore data but also invites further attacks. 

Preventing Ransomware Reinfections 

While comprehensive remediation may require expert assistance, there are proactive steps smaller organizations can take to protect against ransomware attacks and reinfections: 

  • Real-time Monitoring and Logging: Activate monitoring and logging to stay informed about suspicious activity. Retain critical log data for at least one year. 
  • Audit Access Privileges: Regularly review and revoke administrator permissions for unknown users. 
  • Implement 2FA/MFA: Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication for all users, especially remote workers. 
  • Regular Software Updates: Keep all software up to date to plug potential vulnerabilities. 
  • Comprehensive Backup Strategy: Regularly backup data and store copies offline in a secure location. 
  • Employee Cybersecurity Education: Train employees on cybersecurity best practices and their role in safeguarding the organization. 
  • Engage with Cybersecurity Experts: In case of difficulty in removing threats, seek assistance from cybersecurity experts to thoroughly analyze network traffic and logs. 
  • Consider Cybersecurity Services: Partner with a dedicated cybersecurity organization or Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) to bolster your defense and stay vigilant 24/7. 

Ransomware reinfections are a growing concern in the cybersecurity landscape. Proper remediation, ongoing vigilance, and proactive measures are essential to prevent recurrent attacks and protect your organization from the devastating consequences of ransomware. Smaller IT-constrained organizations, in particular, should consider partnering with cybersecurity experts like Devfuzion to navigate the complex landscape of cyber threats and reinforce their defenses against ransomware.