Web vulnerabilities are a key part of many ransomware attack chains, even those that start from a phishing email. This post puts together five reasons why eliminating web vulnerabilities is vital to prevent ransomware attacks.
Ransomware has caused significant issues for organizations globally in recent years. In response, many have focused their efforts on defending against this type of threat by redirecting their budgets away from web security. Regrettably, this approach actually makes their IT systems more vulnerable to ransomware.
Ransomware is just one outcome of a successful attack and should not be mistaken for the attack itself.
Think of a ransomware attack as an illness. The ransomware software acts like a virus or bacterium, spreading and infecting the entire system once it has entered. Preventing its entry is key to avoiding the harmful effects.
Just as bacteria and viruses need to be transmitted from host to host, ransomware needs to be introduced into a system. In both cases, prevention is better than cure, so your most effective defensive measures are those that prevent ransomware from entering your systems in the first place.
Ransomware can be delivered through various means, such as phishing and social engineering or exploiting system vulnerabilities, most of which are web vulnerabilities. Thus, defending against web vulnerabilities should be the first line of defense.
“Preventing attacks that can deliver ransomware is the only way to safeguard your organization from it. Once ransomware has infiltrated your systems, it becomes too difficult to stop.”
Phishing and social engineering are widely considered the most common methods of delivering ransomware. However, the success of phishing attempts often relies on prevalent web vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS). If these exist, attackers can manipulate users and employees into trusting their fake messages by using the victim’s trust in the business and domain name.
For example, a web application with an XSS vulnerability could be used by an attacker to send a phishing message to employees containing a malicious URL with the company’s domain name. Upon visiting the vulnerable page, the employee is redirected to a malicious site where the browser downloads a ransomware installer. This type of attack is highly convincing and even the most cautious employee may fall for it.
Furthermore, vulnerable web applications could also be used to attack business partners, customers, or even the public, potentially revealing the company’s security weakness and damaging their reputation. To minimize this risk, it’s essential to ensure that all sites and applications under the company’s domain name are free of XSS vulnerabilities.
“Web vulnerabilities in your sites and applications can enable phishing attacks against your organization, partners, clients, or the general public, potentially causing permanent damage to your reputation.”
As mentioned earlier, there are multiple methods to deliver ransomware, and many exploit vulnerabilities. Previously, the most attractive vulnerabilities were found in on-premises systems such as outdated software or misconfigured devices leading to network security issues. With the shift to remote work due to the pandemic, on-premises systems have become less significant.
On-premises networks and infrastructure are being replaced by cloud solutions that rely heavily on web technologies, making web vulnerabilities increasingly important in terms of security. Issues that once only impacted marketing websites now pose a threat to business-critical systems and data.
Cybercriminals are also adapting to changes and recognizing that the traditional method of infecting physical desktops and servers through a local network may not be effective anymore. With many users accessing cloud-stored data through their web browsers, cybercriminals are shifting towards exploiting web and cloud vulnerabilities to ensure that their ransomware can reach the data.
“With the shift to cloud solutions, the importance of web security has grown while local network security has become less relevant. Neglecting web security in favor of network security leaves vulnerabilities open for attackers to exploit.”
Many organizations that fall victim to a ransomware attack keep the details private, which hampers the development of effective protection methods and negatively impacts global IT security. Such confidentiality may be due to the inability to quickly locate and fix security weaknesses, the fear of exposing the organization to further attacks, or the belief that admitting security errors will harm reputation. However, this behavior only exacerbates the problem. It’s like a country with a deadly virus withholding information for political reasons.
“Keeping quiet about the methods used to deliver ransomware attacks only hinders the ability for the wider community to protect itself from future ransomware attacks.”
A lack of technical information in media reporting on ransomware attacks impedes progress in defense against ransomware. Major enterprises like Cloudflare, which follow best practices for incident disclosure and provide detailed information on security incidents, offer a positive example for other organizations to follow. If more victims of ransomware attacks adopted these practices, it would benefit the global community’s efforts to combat ransomware.
“To improve global cybersecurity, it is crucial that all relevant details of ransomware attacks are widely disseminated. Sharing this information allows the community to better protect itself against similar threats in the future.”