How can we prevent ransomware attacks?

Ben Pournader
7 min readJun 20, 2024


Preventing ransomware attacks in organizations involves a combination of technical measures, employee training, and organizational policies. Here are some key strategies to consider preventing (or recovering from) such attacks:

Education and Awareness Training

Regularly train employees about the risks of ransomware and other cyber threats. Teach them to recognize phishing emails and suspicious links, which are common vectors for ransomware. These trainings help mitigate risks by empowering employees with the knowledge and tools they need to recognize and respond to cyber threats. Here’s how they contribute to preventing ransomware attacks:

1. Enhancing Threat Recognition: Training helps employees identify the tactics commonly used by cybercriminals, such as phishing emails, malicious attachments, or fake websites. Recognizing these threats early can prevent the initiation of a ransomware attack.

2. Reducing Human Error: Many cybersecurity breaches, including ransomware, are caused by human error. Regular training sessions educate employees about safe computing practices, such as not opening suspicious emails, using strong passwords, and avoiding the use of unsecured networks.

3. Promoting Safe Email Practices: Employees learn to scrutinize emails more carefully. This includes checking the sender’s email address for legitimacy, being wary of unsolicited attachments, and not clicking on unknown links. Such practices are vital as phishing is a primary vector for ransomware delivery.

4. Encouraging Secure Password Use and Management: Trainings often cover the importance of strong, unique passwords and the use of multi-factor authentication. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access which can lead to ransomware infections.

5. Building a Security-first Culture: Regular training fosters a culture of security within the organization. When security becomes a shared responsibility, employees are more likely to take proactive steps to mitigate risks.

6. Keeping Updated on Latest Security Trends and Threats: Cyber threats evolve rapidly. Continuous training ensures that employees are aware of the latest cybersecurity trends, threats, and defense mechanisms.

7. Establishing Protocols for Incident Reporting: Security training includes protocols for reporting suspicious activities immediately. Quick reporting can prevent an initial intrusion from turning into a full-blown ransomware attack.

Regular Data Backups

Maintain regular backups of all critical data and ensure these backups are stored offline or in a separate environment. While backups themselves don’t prevent an attack from occurring, they are essential for recovery and minimizing damage. Regular data backups can be a vital component in an organization’s cybersecurity defenses because:

1. Rapid Recovery: In the event of a ransomware attack, having up-to-date backups allows an organization to restore encrypted data quickly without paying the ransom. This reduces downtime and the associated costs.

2. Data Integrity Maintenance: Regular backups ensure that the most recent versions of data are available for restoration. This is critical for maintaining business operations and data integrity, as it minimizes the loss of information that could occur between backups.

3. Reducing Ransom Demands Leverage: When attackers know that an organization does not have adequate backups, they may believe that the organization is more likely to pay the ransom to retrieve critical data. However, if an organization can restore data from backups, the leverage shifts, and the necessity to comply with ransom demands decreases significantly.

4. Cost Effectiveness: The cost of maintaining regular backups is generally much lower than the potential cost of ransom payments, legal fees, lost business, and reputation damage that could result from a ransomware attack.

5. Compliance and Legal Assurance: Many industries are governed by regulations that require data to be backed up regularly. Regular backups ensure compliance with these requirements, protecting the organization from legal repercussions associated with data loss.

6. Isolation from Network: It’s essential that backups are kept isolated from the network that could be affected by ransomware. This prevents the backups themselves from being encrypted along with the active data.

7. Testing and Validation: Regular backup processes include testing and validating the backup data. This ensures that the backups are complete, the data can be restored, and the restoration processes work correctly, which is crucial during an actual ransomware recovery scenario.

Update and Patch Systems

Keep all software, operating systems, and applications up to date to protect against known vulnerabilities. Auto updates as well as automated patch management tools can help streamline this process. Updating and patching systems are critical components of an effective cybersecurity strategy for organizations, playing a pivotal role in preventing ransomware attacks and contribute to strengthening defenses against such threats by

1. Closing Security Vulnerabilities: Many ransomware attacks exploit known vulnerabilities in software and operating systems. Regular updates and patches often address these security holes, preventing attackers from using them as entry points into the network.

2. Mitigating Against Zero-Day Exploits: While it’s challenging to defend against zero-day exploits (vulnerabilities that are exploited by attackers before the software vendor has issued a patch), keeping systems up to date maximizes protection and reduces the window of opportunity for attackers. This is especially important as once a patch is available, the information about the vulnerability becomes more accessible, increasing the risk of exploitation. However, Zero-day exploits are not commonly used as vectors for ransomware attacks. Hackers typically target more accessible vulnerabilities, opting for low-hanging fruit and simpler methods. Reports on ransomware incidents rarely indicate the use of zero-day exploits.

3. Enhancing Software Performance and Stability: Updates not only address security issues but also include improvements to software performance and stability. These can indirectly contribute to security by ensuring systems operate efficiently and reliably, reducing the risk of errors that could be exploited maliciously.

4. Extending Security Feature Updates: Software updates often include new or enhanced security features. By applying updates, organizations can take advantage of advanced defensive technologies that software vendors have developed in response to evolving cybersecurity threats.

5. Building a Security-centric Organizational Culture: Regularly updating and patching systems reinforces the importance of cybersecurity within an organization. It cultivates a culture of security awareness and proactive defense among employees and IT staff.

6. Preventing Spread of Infection: In cases where an attacker manages to infiltrate a network, having updated and patched systems can limit the spread of ransomware within the network, as fewer machines are vulnerable to secondary exploitation.

Advanced Threat Protection Solutions

Deploy security measures that encompass advanced threat detection, antivirus software, and malware removal tools. Regular updates to these solutions are essential to ensure they can identify the latest ransomware signatures. For instance, if your Extended Detection and Response (XDR) system reports numerous privilege escalation attempts on a system, this should be considered a key risk indicator (KRI) of a potential ransomware attack or other types of cyber threats.

Access Controls and User Permissions

Limit user access to the network and data based on their job requirements. Implement the principle of least privilege (PoLP) to minimize the potential impact of a ransomware attack.

Network Segmentation

Segment your network into distinct sections to contain ransomware if an infection occurs. This approach helps confine the damage to isolated parts of the network. While it may not prevent ransomware attacks outright, network segmentation is an effective strategy to substantially mitigate their impact. Additionally, certain security standards, such as PCI DSS, require testing the effectiveness of your network segmentation.

Multi-factor Authentication

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for accessing sensitive systems and data to add an extra layer of security. This makes it more challenging for attackers to gain unauthorized access, even with stolen credentials. Additionally, adopting modern, passwordless authentication methods, such as certificate-based authentication, can further enhance security. Passwords and pins are increasingly viewed as an outdated method of authentication in today’s security landscape.

Incident Response Plan

Develop and regularly update an incident response plan that includes procedures for responding to ransomware attacks. Ensure all employees know their roles during an incident.

Disaster Recovery Plans

Having well-developed disaster recovery (DR) and contingency plans is crucial for organizations to respond effectively and recover quickly from ransomware attacks. These plans provide a structured approach to managing crises and mitigate the impact of such incidents. Here’s how they assist organizations:

1. Preparedness and Quick Response: Disaster recovery plans lay out specific steps to be followed during and after a ransomware attack, ensuring that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. This preparedness can significantly speed up the response time, reducing downtime and limiting damage.

2. Data Restoration: A core component of any DR plan is the procedure for data backup and restoration. In the event of a ransomware attack, having these processes well-defined and regularly tested ensures that data can be quickly restored from backups, minimizing the loss of critical information.

3. Reducing Financial Impact: Effective disaster recovery and contingency planning help in managing the financial repercussions of a ransomware attack. By prioritizing and restoring critical operations quickly, organizations can reduce the direct costs of downtime and the indirect costs associated with lost business and reputational damage.

4. Legal and Compliance Assurance: For many industries, having a DR plan is not just best practice but a compliance requirement. These plans ensure that organizations meet legal standards for data protection and business continuity, protecting them from potential legal consequences following an attack.

5. Communication Plans: Good disaster recovery and contingency plans include communication strategies both internally and externally. Prompt and clear communication with stakeholders helps manage the situation effectively, maintaining trust and managing public relations properly.

6. Testing and Improvement: Regular testing of the DR and contingency plans helps identify gaps and areas for improvement, ensuring the plans evolve in line with new threats. This continuous improvement cycle helps organizations stay prepared for emerging ransomware tactics.

7. Business Continuity: Beyond immediate recovery, contingency plans focus on sustaining essential functions and services during an attack. This ensures that the most critical operations can continue, even under duress, which is vital for long-term survival and resilience.

Email Security

Use email filtering solutions to block malicious emails and attachments, which are common delivery mechanisms for ransomware.

Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing

Conduct regular security audits and penetration tests to identify and mitigate weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your IT infrastructure. It helps you to identify misconfigurations and security holes that were not identified by other methods like vulnerability scans.

Avoid the Risk

Risk avoidance in cybersecurity risk management refers to the strategy of completely eliminating a risk by discontinuing the activities that lead to it. This approach involves not engaging in actions that could expose the organization to potential threats or vulnerabilities. Essentially, if a particular practice, technology, or process poses a security risk, the organization chooses to avoid that risk entirely by not implementing or using it.

For instance, an organization may choose to forego the use of an on-premises managed database and instead opt for a SaaS solution for its database needs. By not having to manage operating systems or local software, the risk of a ransomware attack is eliminated. Ransomware requires an operating system to execute, so removing this element can significantly reduce vulnerability.



Ben Pournader

Information Security Expert, Cyber Security Engineer, Blogger, Mentor, PCI SME, CISM, CGEIT, CISA, CRISC, RHCSA, MCSE, CCNA, MBA, PMP, CLSSGB