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May 21, 2024

Ransomware Defense: Protection from Remote Access Risks

Ransomware Risks from Remote Access Tools

Hackers are constantly evolving their tactics and techniques to invade our systems and access and steal our data. A 2023 study by insurance underwriter At-Bay saw 3 out of 5 ransomware attacks originating from hackers targeting remote access tools. While Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are different from remote access tools, they are also used to connect remotely. VPNs provide secure connections for working from home or anywhere else. However, both remote access tools and VPNs can serve as entry points for hackers to infiltrate your networks and databases, turning them into gold mines for those looking to hold your business hostage with ransomware. However, that remote access into your networks and databases is a treasure chest for hackers seeking to ransom your business. 

Remote Access Tools and VPNs are Putting you At Risk

As At-Bay reported, hackers are essentially walking in the front door  of our businesses through our self-managed VPNs using nothing more than stolen credentials.  Originally intended for legitimate troubleshooting by tech professionals, VPNs and remote access tools have have become conduits for bad actors and their attacks.

You Do have MFA enabled on your VPN and Remote Access Tools right?

VPNs and remote access tools were originally designed for legitimate purposes like work-from-home, remote IT support, and even system administration.  However, hackers have begun consistently and persistently targeting and weaponizing these solutions. Unfortunately, unpatched or insecurely configured self-managed remote access tools and VPNs (no Multi-factor Authentication!?), allow hackers to breach your network and deploy ransomware. The fusion of remote access tools with ransomware amplifies the potency of these attacks. It grants cybercriminals remote control over your networks and opens the door for the widespread chaos.

Attacks Shift from RDP to Self-Managed VPNs

At-Bay’s research found a shift in ransomware attacks away from Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) solutions towards these self-managed remote access tools and VPN solutions. Their research also brought to light a 64% increase in Ransomware claims within their underwriting policy holders. The ransomware scourge was pretty bad leading up to 2023, but it only seemed to get worse over the year. The good news however, it there are legitimate, simple things you can do to prevent becoming a statistic in an underwriter’s annual report. Let’s look now at some mitigations you should have in place.

Remote Access Tools Ransomware Attack Mitigation Strategies

To defend against the combined threat of remote access tools and ransomware, organizations must adopt proactive cybersecurity measures:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Ensure that all remote access tools and VPNs are tied to multi-factor authentication.  This single measure is most critical of all to implement first.  Too often, end users reuse their passwords personally and professionally.  A single breach exposes your VPN to employees using the same password on your VPN as elsewhere.  Multi-factor is your last line of defense against exposed passwords being used successfully on your VPN accounts.
  • Password Manager Adoption:  if you haven’t funded and required adoption of a Password Manager yet, now would be the time to do so.  If you are NOT using one, then your employees are most certainly reusing passwords all over the place.  With more than 400 accounts on average for each person, no Password Manager usage means reused passwords everywhere.  Don’t believe us?  Then run your oldest personal email account through CyberHoot.com’s exposed password report to see how many accounts for one person have been exposed.  Multiply that by all your employees and then double it for unknown exposures not reported in public databases.  Now you’ll begin to see the extent of the problem.  Pro Tip: To see redacted passwords for your employees, CyberHoot LMS subscribers can view this data for free.
  • Timely Software Updates and Patch Management: Keep all your remote access tools and VPN software (and all other systems), up to date with the latest security patches to plug any holes that ransomware attackers might be trying to exploit. Follow a structured Vulnerability Alert Management Process to guide you on when and how to address critical vulnerabilities in vendor software.
  • Vulnerability Scanning: another great defensive strategy is to regularly scan your own environment from the Internet’s perspective looking for vulnerabilities in software that you think you are patching.  This often uncovers additional machines or services that may have been overlooked for patching.  IT teams aren’t perfect, and sometimes will miss patching a system.  Your scanning will help warn you of errors and omissions.
  • Secure Data Backup and Recovery Strategies: Keep regular backups of crucial data and systems stored securely in offline locations. Follow the 3-2-1 rule of strong backup strategies.  That is make three (3) copies of all your critical data, stored in 2 different mediums (HDD, Cloud Backup for example), and make sure one copy is offline.  This ensures that if you’re hit by ransomware, you can restore operations without giving in to extortion demands.

Additional Cybersecurity Program Measures to Consider:

While the following don’t tie directly back to VPN and remote access tools attack protection and mitigation, they do tie to ransomware protections since the other very popular method of Ransomware distribution is phishing emails.

  • Employee Training and Awareness Programs: Educate your employees regularly on the dangers posed by phishing attacks, malicious links, and email scams. Stress the importance of staying aware online and provide engaging cybersecurity training, like CyberHoot’s Cyber Awareness videos, which can be delivered automatically and track compliance.
  • Phishing Simulation Training: Test your employees’ prowess at spotting phishing attacks with regular positive and educational simulated phishing exercises. This helps improve their ability to spot and report suspicious emails. CyberHoot’s HootPhish offers hyper-realistic phishing simulations that are fully automated, educational, and positively received by employees.   Best of all there is a free 30-day trial.
  • Thorough Risk Assessment: Start by thoroughly assessing the risks lurking within your networks and systems, including administrative processes. Evaluate everything from software setups to network structures, and don’t overlook physical security, especially in the era of remote work.  You have finite time and money to spend on risk remediation, an RA can help ensure you’re doing things the right way.
  • Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) Services: Consider enlisting the help of a virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) like CyberHoot’s vCISO services. They can provide expert guidance and strategic leadership in developing and implementing tailored cybersecurity measures to meet your specific needs and requirements.

Conclusion

When remote access tools are targeted by ransomware hackers, bad things can happen.  This article outlined various tactics you need to tack action on to defend your remote access tools and VPN networks and systems. By following the advice in this article, you can lower your chances of falling victim to ransomware attacks sneaking in. With so many people working from home and cyber threats always looming, being ready to defend against this growing attack vector is key to keeping your businesses strong and well defended.

Secure your business with CyberHoot Today!!!

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