June 26, 2023  —  Acronis

The role of Incident Response Planning in ransomware defense

Acronis Cyber Protect

How to create an incident response plan for ransomware defense

Ransomware attacks continue to be a pressing concern for businesses across numerous industries. According to the Verizon 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, ransomware is now present in more than 62% of incidents committed by organized crime actors and 59% of incidents with a financial motivation.

As ransomware attacks multiply, cybercriminals are moving beyond simply encrypting critical systems. Most attackers now start by stealing sensitive data and threatening to leak it online if the target fails to pay the ransom. This not only risks data security but also can also damage the organization's reputation among relevant stakeholders. Attackers may also threaten victims’ customers and partners directly by releasing private data, increasing pressure on the victim to pay up. Yet another tactic is the threat that failure to pay may result in a DDoS attack on the target’s public servers.

What is incident response planning?

A comprehensive incident response plan lays out both your overall strategy and the specific steps you’ll use to detect, contain, mitigate and recover from ransomware attacks. It also covers security mechanisms to safeguard data. From risk assessment and detection to investigation and restoration, an effective ransomware incident response plan can help your organization manage threats, reduce the impact and costs of ransomware attacks and put you in a stronger position to prevent future attacks from recurring. With a plan in place, you’ll be able to respond quickly and effectively when a cyberattack like ransomware strikes.

  • An incident response process should:
  • Assess how incident response aligns with the organization's overarching goals
  • Explore the organization's chosen methodology for incident response
  • Identify the essential tasks at each stage of the incident response process
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities in executing incident response tasks
  • Establish effective communication channels between the incident response team and the entire organization

Measure the efficiency of the organization's incident response capabilities

Why is an incident response plan important?

Organizations should have an incident response plan to protect their digital assets and overall security posture. With cyberthreats constantly evolving, having a well-defined plan is not only a precautionary measure but necessary. Companies need to understand that cyberattacks, especially ransomware incidents, are not a matter of 'if' but 'when.'

Having a plan means that organizations can respond quickly and effectively when an attack occurs. Additionally, by having an established incident response team, companies can assess the situation, contain any damage and work hard to restore systems to normalcy. This minimizes downtime and data loss, often measuring the impact in terms of how much data remains safe from compromise. Not only that, but it also helps organizations to prepare for the legal and compliance regulations that often come with cyber incidents.

By working closely with legal teams, companies can ensure their response aligns with both security and legal requirements. In today’s world, safety is everything, and an incident response plan is the key to protecting business data, recovering infected systems and maintaining a good reputation in the face of ransomware.

How to create an incident response plan for ransomware defense

The good news is that businesses can take a range of concrete steps to significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful ransomware attack and to minimize the damage in downtime and lost data that can result when an attack succeeds.

Step 1: Define objectives and scope

To ensure an effective ransomware response plan, it is crucial to establish clear objectives and identify impacted systems and data that will be affected.

Step 2: Establish an incident response team

Assemble an incident response team composed of IT, cybersecurity, legal and executive leadership experts By assigning roles and responsibilities within the team, you can ensure a smooth and coordinated response to any ransomware incidents that may occur.

Step 3: Develop an incident classification framework

Create a framework for classifying ransomware based on severity and impact. This will help prioritize responses and resource allocation in the event of ransomware attacks.

Step 4: Detection and identification of ransomware threats

Implement robust monitoring and detection systems to identify ransomware infections early. Use intrusion detection, anomaly detection and anti-malware solutions to flag potential dangers associated with ransomware.

Step 5: Containment and eradication of ransomware

Define procedures for isolating affected systems to prevent the spread of ransomware. Also, develop protocols for investigating and preventing malicious actors from causing damage and ensure quarantine of affected systems.

Step 6: Recovery and data restoration

Establish a recovery plan for data and restoring systems after a ransomware attack. Regularly back up critical data and test the restoration process to ensure its effectiveness when you need to recover data.

Step 7: Communication protocols

Develop communication protocols for both internal and external stakeholders during ransomware incidents. Specify how and when to notify employees, customers and regulatory authorities during an attack. Maintain open lines of communication throughout the response plan.

Step 8: Legal and compliance considerations

Collaborate with legal counsel and law enforcement to understand ransomware's legal and regulatory implications, including data breach notification requirements and consequences of paying the ransom.

Step 9: Documentation and reporting

Document all actions taken during the process, including containment, eradication and recovery efforts. Prepare incident reports for post-incident analysis and regulatory compliance after a ransomware attack. Review and update your plan regularly to account for changes in technology, threats and the organization's structure.

Step 10: Training and awareness

Regularly train your incident response team and relevant employees on the ransomware response plan. Conduct tabletop exercises and simulations to ensure everyone is well-prepared to respond effectively to a ransomware attack.

Developing an effective ransomware incident response plan

Acronis recommends deploying an incident response plan to counter ransomware attacks, with a focus on three categories: active defense measures, skills and processes, and attack mitigation and recovery. Here’s an overview of the categories and their component steps. 

Active defense measures

  • Detect ransomware behavior with anti-malware that employs machine learning and AI to successfully identify the thousands of threats being generated every day.
  • Update email security and URL filtering countermeasures to detect and filter out threats before they get inside.
  • Increase visibility of IT resources and data flows by monitoring and logging activity across your infrastructure. Data loss prevention (DLP) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools help you identify malware, intrusions and unauthorized access.
  • Eliminate network exposures and harden endpoints by disabling unused services and segmenting internal networks.
  • Improve password and access management best practices, and tighten up access to systems containing admin tools and sensitive data.

Skills and processes

  • Implement security awareness training that helps employees identify suspicious phishing attempts.
  • Automate vulnerability scanning and patch management so gaps can be located and closed quickly, relieving your IT team of this critical but tedious chore.
  • Reduce the number of agents on endpoints and consoles, which has likely grown in piecemeal fashion over the years.
  • Use the NIST framework to regularly assess and update your defenses and mitigation strategies for ransomware.

Attack mitigation and recovery

  • Implement a robust data protection regimen as a last line of defense. Conduct regular live tests of your plans to validate your strategy and processes.
  • Consider a disaster recovery solution so you can immediately resume operations by switching to replicated applications and data.
  • In the wake of an attack, use your incident response plan to identify and close vulnerabilities.

Overall, a comprehensive plan will help you recover data and systems, respond effectively to malicious actors and reduce the effect of ransomware incidents on your organization's impacted systems. Paying a ransom should always be the last resort in your recovery plan and should be prevented from happening in the first place.

For more information on our incident response planning guidelines, please check out our whitepaper, A 12-step ransomware response plan for business.

Best practices for ransomware defense with incident response planning

Ransomware threatens your customer and employee data, trade secrets and even your business’s very existence. These attacks can be very expensive and damage your company’s reputation. According to the Ponemon Institute, the typical business suffers financial losses of $9,000 per minute when data is rendered unavailable by a ransomware attack or other problem. By enabling faster data recovery, ransomware response plans save money.

Ransomware infections have become a major concern for organizations of all sizes. Any business that hopes to reduce its risk from this growing threat must get aggressive on defense but also plan for the inevitability that — sooner or later — an attack will succeed. To counter the threat of ransomware — threats that are growing in frequency and sophistication — business leaders must take a multilayered approach to defense and mitigation planning, focus on processes and technologies that reduce overall complexity and strengthen their operations with the use of AI, automation and integration.

Affected systems can bring operations to a standstill, making it vital to have a well-defined ransomware response plan. By planning in advance, outlining roles and responsibilities, implementing security controls like anti-malware and being prepared for disaster recovery, you can enhance your readiness and response capabilities in the event of a ransomware attack. Your response team's ability to safeguard your systems and data, recover data and restore systems quickly can also significantly lower the potential impact of ransomware incidents.

In addition to internal preparations, it's essential to collaborate with security vendors and stay up to date with the latest threat intelligence. Moreover, working closely with law enforcement and legal teams can help navigate the complex legal and compliance regulations associated with ransomware.

Kick-start your incident response plan with the experts at Acronis

Many of the topics in this article are examined in further detail in our on-demand webinar, Defend your business from ransomware threats with an enhanced Incident Response Plan.

This virtual workshop for IT practitioners reveals how an effective incident response plan can help minimize the risks posed by ransomware attacks. Experts from the Acronis #CyberFit Academy share proven best practices you can use to develop a well-crafted response plan and minimize the operational disruption and reputation damage that often results from a cyberattack.

As a viewer, you’ll:

  • Learn how to create an effective incident response plan to minimize the risks posed by ransomware attacks
  • Understand how to help your teams respond quickly to any threat that may occur within your organization’s IT infrastructure
  • Receive a checklist to help validate your current response plan or develop a new one for your organization
  • Get a sample incident response plan to further tailor your approach

About Acronis

A Swiss company founded in Singapore in 2003, Acronis has 15 offices worldwide and employees in 50+ countries. Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud is available in 26 languages in 150 countries and is used by over 20,000 service providers to protect over 750,000 businesses.