Hard to believe, but ransomware is more than that three decades old man While many would think that the ransomware mayhem began with the WannaCry attack in 2017, this is simply the most publicized example. Since then, dozens of strains of ransomware have been used in various cyber attacks.
According to A PhishLabs report by HelpSystems, ransomware attacks are up more than 100% year over year. The report goes on to say that ransomware operators are destroying critical systems and leaking stolen data in record volumes, and companies that fall victim to an attack often feel powerless to find a solution because the threat itself is in a constant state of evolution. The price of ransomware attacks is also rising, with average redemption requirement reaching $220,298 in 2021, with associated recovery costs averaging $1.8 million.
For example, a fuel company, Colonial pipeline, was attacked in May 2021 by cyber criminals and extortionists. As a result from rising fuel prices on the pump, to the ghost of the jumpsuit shortage of gas and inflation, the United States found itself in a serious dilemma. why? The answer was ransomware.
Security against ransomware threats is of paramount importance to almost all information security groups. This is a standard hard threat that can have devastating results for a company. However, even if your company has robust protection, it is necessary simulate a ransomware attack and make sure you are really protected. This is why penetration testing is the most useful method of confirming this protection and security procedures are functioning flawlessly—and if not, fix them before it’s too late.
What is a penetration test?
Penetration testing is an important part of finding and identifying potential critical vulnerabilities in your organization’s external network, internal network, applications, or systems. They provide useful insight into how your business and human assets function.
Penetration testing is a dynamic security strategy. During testing, security professionals attempt to infiltrate or cyberattack a system to find exploitable security vulnerabilities. In other words, penetration tests evaluate a company’s security methodologies and tools in order to find weaknesses in the environment. Unlike reactive security techniques that come into play when a data breach or security problem is discovered, penetration testing can help detect security issues before attackers exploit them. By thinking like an attacker, penetration testers can find security loopholes and weaknesses that the firm would otherwise not know about.
Why is penetration testing important for ransomware security?
A ransomware attack can stop a company from functioning properly, costing millions of dollars in lost productivity alone. Penetration testing embraces a criminal mindset to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities before a bad actor exploits them. The idea of allowing someone with a criminal mindset to look for weaknesses in an organization supports IT leaders as they seek to improve prevention standards to reduce the likelihood of such devastating attacks. Just as a fire marshal is trained to assess the fire safety of a building, a penetration tester is hired to find and report exploitable weaknesses, not participate in a company’s failure as a proof of concept.
As technology evolves and grows, so do the methods used by cybercriminals. Therefore, companies must keep up with this speed to protect their assets from such attacks. They also need to rethink their security strategies at this rate. This is a significant share in a DevSecOps a culture in which companies take preventive actions early in their evolution and operational procedures. This is known as a “left shift” because it visualizes the early part of the development timeline, rather than the old method of including security as an afterthought (which would be on the far right of the development timeline).
However, it is usually difficult to understand what methods attackers use. It is also difficult for a non-technical person to imagine how attackers can use them in an attack. By using penetration testers, firms can learn and work to update and patch elements of their systems that are particularly vulnerable to current ransomware processes. Dealing with a ransomware incident is all about preparing for an attack.
Ransomware Penetration Testing: A Comprehensive Approach
Ransomware often occurs as a result of attackers exploiting vulnerabilities. To stop ransomware, it’s important to recognize these vulnerabilities. Penetration testing methodology includes:
- Planning: the pentester develops a plan that defines the scope of the test and the known attack vectors to use.
- Intelligence: pentestor uses different tools to pinpoint access routes, useful resources, and live weak points.
- Operation: The pentester attempts his attack, typically using various social engineering techniques, well-known attack vectors, and new attack vectors.
- Study and analyze: pentestor develops a report describing their attack, what they achieved, possible damage to the business, identified vulnerabilities and suggestions for their elimination and improvement of security procedures.
- Correction: the company should identify important findings from the penetration test and develop a plan to mitigate or correct the findings.
Pen tests also give you insight into which channels in your company are most at stake, and therefore which types of new security tools you should invest in. This approach can help reveal a variety of significant system flaws that you may not have even thought about.
You will notice that the penetration tester stops when detected. Just as a fire marshal will not install fire protection in a building being tested, a penetration tester, unless otherwise specified, must not alter the environment. In fact, one of the principles of testing is that if a tester discovers a problem that requires immediate resolution, such as discovering an active attack, all testing should be stopped and the appropriate company personnel should be notified.
How can a penetration test help?
Penetration test are primarily designed to exploit potential bugs before actual attackers do, and running these tests periodically has many benefits. Here are some of the main reasons to perform a ransomware penetration test:
- Definition of vulnerability. Penetration will help companies find vulnerabilities that might otherwise go unnoticed.
- Cyber defense testing. You’ll also gain insight into your company’s cyber defense capability, threat alerts, and response time.
- Checking the firewall. More specifically, you will see how useful your existing firewall software and configurations are in combating potential attacks.
- A new threat. Hired penetration testers will typically use the latest attacker tactics, tools, and techniques, allowing you to understand whether your defenses against creative threats are adequate.
- Compliance with regulatory standards. Penetration testing typically supports your cyber defenses against regulations specific to your industry or business practices.
- Downtime Devaluation. If an attack does occur, pen testing ensures that your security services understand exactly how to respond to get your system back to normal as quickly as possible.
- Risk prioritization. After performing a pen test, you will have a better understanding of the risks to your company’s data and systems and how to prioritize your resources to mitigate those risks.
Let’s take a closer look at how a penetration tester can test for ransomware. The following examples are just some of the few attack cases, and the penetration tests will use innovative approaches to demonstrate various exploits.
The ultimate goal of a penetration tester is to infiltrate a company, simulate the deployment of ransomware, and delineate the affected target.
Some attack vectors
A pentester typically attempts to penetrate a target system using one of the following attack vectors:
- Phishing email: a pentester can craft an email that links to a bogus website or include a weaponized attachment. Threat actors will attempt to trick at least one administrative employee into clicking a link or attachment to demonstrate their vulnerability.
- Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): if a company uses RDP or an equivalent remote access protocol, a pentester can compromise a user’s RDP login credentials and use them to gain remote access to a machine on the business network. The pentester can then run a harmless program to indicate that the file can be executed.
- Immediate infection: some ransomware can instantly spread to vulnerable machines. For example, WannaCry exploited an SMB vulnerability in older versions of Windows. A pentester can monitor machines on a network, recognize those that have vulnerabilities, and use this to indicate that a machine may be a target for ransomware.
Every business should incorporate penetration testing into their security strategy. Working closely with a penetration testing partner will help you streamline the process by efficiently identifying vulnerabilities and recommending mitigation technologies against ransomware attacks. Using an external penetration testing organization also adds more robust objectivity to the test.
About the author: Prasanna Peshkar is a cybersecurity researcher, educator, and author of technical cybersecurity content. He is interested in auditing by assessing web application threats and vulnerabilities. He is interested in new attack methodologies, tools and frameworks. He also spends time looking for new vulnerabilities and understanding new cybersecurity threats in blockchain technology.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Tripwire, Inc.