ransomware cloud security Halcyon

Stormy Skies: Weathering the Threat of Ransomware in the Cloud

Ransomware attacks on cloud environments have surged in the past few years, thanks to the widespread adoption of cloud computing to store backups. A recent survey indicated that almost all (94%) of security professionals have experienced an incident targeting their cloud-based backups. The same report notes that organizations with compromised backups were almost twice as likely to pay the ransom compared to those with safe backups.

Unfortunately, the vast amount of data stored in cloud applications has put these services in the crosshairs of malicious actors. As more sensitive and valuable information is housed in the cloud, ransomware gangs have turned their attention to the skies, realizing the increased potential payoff.

With cloud-based backups being the primary reason cloud deployments are targeted by ransomware groups, it is essential to understand the challenges and the best practices for protecting against these threats.

Cloudy With a Chance of Ransomware

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) highlights that in the early stages of a destructive ransomware attack, actors often target backups and infrastructure, deleting or destroying the data stored there to make it harder for the victim to recover their data, and more likely to pay the ransom. This puts data in cloud-based backup services at particular risk from ransomware actors unless additional measures are taken to protect it.

Because of the cloud’s nature, it’s sometimes easier for bad actors to exfiltrate poorly secured data, delete original files, and demand a ransom for their return than to encrypt the data. In the cloud, ransomware attacks against cloud-based sensitive data, including backups, are carried out in four main ways: data deletion, data override, data re-encryption, and key disabling.

  • Data Deletion: Threat actors infiltrate the cloud environment, delete critical data, making it inaccessible to the business and its users, and demand a ransom to return the files. This can cause significant disruptions to business operations and may require costly recovery efforts.
  • Data Override: In this method, malefactors overwrite existing data with corrupted or encrypted versions. This alteration will render the data unusable, forcing the victims to pay a ransom to restore the original files.
  • Data Re-encryption: Cybercriminals re-encrypt previously encrypted data with a new encryption key, which they control. Even if the victim has backup copies, they remain inaccessible without the attacker’s decryption key, compelling the victim to comply with their demands.
  • Key Disabling: Attackers disable or destroy the encryption keys to access encrypted data. The data remains locked without these keys, forcing the victims to pay the ransom to regain access to their critical information.

A ransom note is displayed, threatening to delete the data if payment is not made promptly. Sometimes, attackers threaten to publicly leak the data or carry out additional attacks if the demands are unmet.

Scaling the Profit Ladder: High-Value Targets

While both forms of ransomware follow similar attack patterns, cloud environments are particularly attractive to attackers due to the high volume of valuable data stored and the potential for larger payouts:

High-Value Data

Cloud environments store vast troves of sensitive information, making them highly lucrative targets for ransomware gangs. Businesses, public sector organizations, and individuals rely on cloud services for data storage, leading to a significant concentration of valuable data. This centralization means that a successful attack on a cloud provider can give attackers access to an enormous amount of critical information.

Potential for Bigger Paydays

The large-scale nature of cloud environments means that a single attack can affect a slew of clients and datasets at once. Such a broad impact can compel organizations to pay higher ransoms to regain access to critical data and maintain business continuity. Bad actors understand that the disruption caused by encrypting cloud data can be extensive, putting pressure on victims to pay quickly and avoid prolonged downtime.

A Wider Attack Surface

The complexity and scale of cloud infrastructures offer numerous entry points for malefactors. Virtual machines, storage solutions, and network configurations could all be potential entry points for exploitation. Misconfigurations, inadequate security practices, and human error also exacerbate the problem. In fact, recent research revealed that more than half of respondents today (55%) believe managing security in the cloud is more complex than on-premises.

Managing Security in Complex Environments

Securing cloud environments is difficult due to their complex and expansive nature. These environments include interconnected services and resources, each with its security requirements. The sheer volume and diversity make maintaining a consistent and comprehensive security posture challenging.

Dividing Defense Duties

Cloud security operates on a shared responsibility model, where both cloud service providers and customers have a part to play in security. The model draws a blurred line in the sand. The cloud provider is in charge of everything on one side of the line, and the customer is responsible for everything on the other—including configuration, apps, and data. This may give rise to an unwholesome dynamic that results in assigning blame, pointing fingers, and shunning obligations. It frequently seems hostile.

Misconfigurations and Human Error

Cloud misconfigurations give adversaries a simple way to enter the cloud through the gaps, mistakes, and vulnerabilities that arise from poorly chosen or completely ignored security settings. Because multi-cloud settings are intricate, it can be challenging to identify instances in which mistakes are committed, such as granting excessive account permissions or configuring public access incorrectly. It can also be challenging to tell when an adversary exploits these mistakes.

Never Standing Still

Ransomware gangs’ tactics constantly evolve, developing more sophisticated ways to slip through defenses, and embracing as-a-Service business models. New strategies that leverage stealth to exfiltrate sensitive and private data have replaced the tried-and-true methods of crippling an organization and holding it hostage. Then, cybercriminals usually make threats about selling it to the highest bidder on the darknet or using it as leverage to get paid generously by cyber insurance. Attackers employ imaginative tactics, forcing businesses to continuously adapt their strategies to protect their cloud-based assets effectively.

Protecting Cloud Deployments from Ransomware

There are several steps businesses can take to protect themselves from ransomware targeting the cloud.

Encrypting data both at rest and in transit means that even should attackers gain access to the data; it remains unreadable without the proper decryption keys. Frequent, secure backups are critical for data recovery during a ransomware attack. These backups should be stored in isolated environments to prevent them from being compromised, and restoration processes should be tested regularly.

Implementing stringent access controls such as the principle of least privilege, conducting regular audits of access permissions, and using multi-factor authentication helps limit the potential for unauthorized access. Also, developing and regularly testing a robust incident response plan will minimize the impact of an attack. This plan should outline precise procedures for detecting, responding to, and recovering from an attack and set out team members’ roles and responsibilities.

Educating staff on recognizing phishing attempts, securing credentials, and following best practices can also significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful attack. Similarly, implementing advanced security tools with AI capabilities and automation can boost protection against ransomware.

Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing

Understanding the Threat

Ransomware in the cloud is a threat to modern organizations, exploiting the complexity and value of cloud environments to launch devastating attacks. By understanding the nature of these threats and implementing best practices for protection, organizations can reduce their risk and enhance their resilience against ransomware.

Proactive measures, continuous vigilance, and a robust security strategy are essential in safeguarding cloud environments from the ever-evolving ransomware threat.

Latest posts by Kirsten Doyle (see all)
Scroll to Top