Top 7 Ransomware Attack Vectors to Watch

By Zachary Amos, Features Editor at ReHack

Ransomware continues to be an issue for many companies because it halts operations and can result in high costs. While attackers often change how they target systems, they usually rely on old methods because they’re the most effective. Organizations can stay secure as long as they watch out for the top ransomware attack vectors and increase the security behind them.

Why You Should Watch For Ransomware

Once attackers access a business’s system, they can hold everything hostage and demand payment to release their control. Ransomware made up one-fifth of all cyber crimes in 2022, which is concerning. It’s typically more concerning than other cyber attacks because the damage from a data breach combines with the cost of paying the ransom.

While the number of ransomware attacks technically decreased from 2021 to 2022, organizations still reported over 493 million incidents in total — and overall, there has been a 400% increase in reported cyberattacks since the COVID-19 pandemic. To protect against ransomware, businesses must reinforce their security around the typical attack vectors that attackers target.

1. Vulnerability Exploitation

Attackers often seek to infiltrate an organization’s systems through unpatched vulnerabilities. It made up a majority of incidents in 2022, with around 52% of all initial attack vectors coming from vulnerability exploitation in remote services. Once they gain access, they install ransomware.

Security weaknesses should be a primary concern for companies because attackers can continue to take advantage of them until they’re patched. To protect against vulnerability exploitation, they must continuously monitor their system for vulnerabilities and repair them immediately. Fixing them might cause downtime, but it’s better to shut everything down temporarily rather than face a ransomware attack.

2. Phishing

Phishing is an incredibly common type of cyberattack, so every business should watch out for it. Attackers can trick employees into clicking on links and installing ransomware through things like email or instant messaging. They might research the company or an employee’s role beforehand to make the attack seem legitimate.

Phishing attacks are happening more frequently, rising from 33% in 2020 to 41% in 2021. It’s relatively easy for attackers to send out massive amounts of messages, so many automate the process and wait for human error to grant them access to an organization’s systems.

To protect against phishing attempts, organizations must train employees on standard methods and reduce the possibility of human error. In addition, they should frequently update devices and install security measures to ensure attack attempts aren’t successful, even if they initially trick someone.

3. Compromised Credentials

Employee usernames and passwords can become compromised when they’re leaked or stolen. Compromised credentials were the second attack vector of choice for cybercriminals, acting as the access point for nearly 40% of incidents in 2022. While organizations can’t guarantee their login information will never leak, they can take steps to protect their systems.

They can require employees to update their credentials regularly, which ensures any compromised credentials will only be an issue temporarily. On top of that, they should mandate two-factor authentication for all sensitive data to render any ransomware attempts harmless. They’ll be much more secure if only authorized users can access systems.

4. Distributed Denial of Service

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is a relatively standard cybercrime that targets systems to extract data on a large scale. Attackers extort businesses by either threatening to deploy it or actually using it. They can use it to cripple a company’s systems and request a ransom in exchange for returning access.

They’re not typically used for ransomware, but organized attacks are becoming common. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an advisory in 2022 warning organizations about AvosLocker. This ransomware DDoS attack threatens to sell their information if they don’t pay in Bitcoin.

Protecting against DDoS attacks is challenging because the whole point is to overwhelm. However, targets can mitigate the situation by monitoring and rerouting malicious network traffic away from them. Prioritizing the protection of certain assets may also help.

5. Social Engineering

Social engineering is an attack vector to watch out for because it’s involved in nearly 98% of cyber attacks to some extent. It takes advantage of human vulnerabilities to infiltrate a company’s systems. For example, the attacker would pose as a trusted business contact and trick a high-level employee into granting them access.

Since the attackers are typically well-researched and pose as familiar entities, it can be challenging to protect against them. Organizations should train all employees on social engineering tactics and advise them to alert their cybersecurity team of anything suspicious. Additional security measures on their devices could protect against infiltration if the initial attempts succeed.

6. Pop-Ups

Cybercriminals often create fake pop-ups that look like advertisements or updates to trick employees into downloading and installing ransomware. They usually appear on websites and look convincing. Most people know not to click on them, but human error is fairly unavoidable.

Organizations can prevent ransomware attacks from malicious pop-ups by installing security software on employee devices. In addition, they can add multiple layers of protection by reinforcing their systems.

7. Remote Desktop Protocol

Remote desktop protocol (RDP) grants someone remote access to a system. IT companies typically use it for troubleshooting since it lets them control the device. While it’s not malicious in itself, it’s still an attack vector to watch out for because attackers can use it to infiltrate a system and hold it hostage. They used RDP as the initial attack vector in around half of all ransomware incidents in 2020.

An organization can protect against misuse of RDP by limiting access to authorized users with two-factor authentication. Beyond that, they can install a failsafe that automatically disconnects users after a certain amount of time to limit the damage they can do.

Watch for These Ransomware Attack Vectors

Attackers may change their operations over time, but most fall back on the seven most common attack vectors. They’re relatively easy to use and have proven effective. While nothing can guarantee complete protection, reinforcing the security behind each one can help an organization remain secure.

As the Features Editor at ReHack, Zac Amos writes about cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and other tech topics. He is a frequent contributor to Brilliance Security Magazine.



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