Firms admit to paying ransomware criminals, but many still unable to recover data

Cybercriminals are successfully encrypting an average of 47 percent of production data and victims are only able to recover 69 percent of impacted data

Posted 19 May 2022 by Christine Horton

Businesses are losing the battle when it comes to defending against ransomware attacks, according to the Veeam 2022 Ransomware Trends Report.

The new survey of 1000 IT leaders finds that 72 percent of organisations had partial or complete attacks on their backup repositories, dramatically impacting the ability to recover data without paying the ransom. Eighty percent of successful attacks targeted known vulnerabilities — reinforcing the importance of patching and upgrading software. Almost all attackers attempted to destroy backup repositories to disable the victim’s ability to recover without paying the ransom.

“Ransomware has democratised data theft and requires a collaborative doubling down from organisations across every industry to maximize their ability to remediate and recover without paying the ransom,” said Danny Allan, CTO at Veeam.

“Paying cybercriminals to restore data is not a data protection strategy. There is no guarantee of recovering data, the risks of reputational damage and loss of customer confidence are high, and most importantly, this feeds a self-fulfilling prophecy that rewards criminal activity.”

Paying ransom is not a recovery strategy

Most (76 percent) cyber-victims paid the ransom to end an attack and recover data. Unfortunately, while 52 percent paid the ransom and were able to recover data, 24 percent paid the ransom but were still not able to recover data — resulting in a one out of three chance that paying the ransom still leads to no data. It is notable that 19 percent of organizations did not pay the ransom because they were able to recover their own data. This is what the remaining 81 percent of cyber-victims must aspire to — recovering data without paying the ransom.

“One of the hallmarks of a strong Modern Data Protection strategy is a commitment to a clear policy that the organization will never pay the ransom, but do everything in its power to prevent, remediate and recover from attacks,” said Allan.

“Despite the pervasive and inevitable threat of ransomware, the narrative that businesses are helpless in the face of it is not an accurate one. Educate employees and ensure they practice impeccable digital hygiene; regularly conduct rigorous tests of your data protection solutions and protocols; and create detailed business continuity plans that prepare key stakeholders for worst-case scenarios.”

Prevention requires diligence from both IT and users

The attack surface for criminals is diverse. Cyber-villains most often first gained access to production environments through errant users clicking malicious links, visiting unsecure websites or engaging with phishing emails — again exposing the avoidable nature of many incidents. After having successfully gained access to the environment, there was very little difference in the infection rates between data center servers, remote office platforms and cloud-hosted servers. In most cases, the intruders took advantage of known vulnerabilities, including common operating systems and hypervisors, as well as NAS platforms and database servers, leaving no stone unturned and exploiting any unpatched or outdated software that they can find. It is notable that significantly higher infection rates were reported by Security Professionals and Backup Administrators, compared with IT Operations or CISOs, implying that “those closer to the problem see even more of the issues.”

Remediation starts with immutability

Respondents to the survey confirmed that 94 percent of attackers attempted to destroy backup repositories and in 72 percent of cases this strategy was at least partially successful. This removal of an organisation’s recovery lifeline is a popular attack strategy as it increases the likelihood that victims would have no other choice than to pay the ransom. The only way to protect against this scenario is to have at least one immutable or air-gapped tier within the data protection framework — which 95 percent of those we surveyed stated they now have. In fact, many organizations reported having some level of immutability or air-gap media in more than one tier of their disk, cloud and tape strategy.