The vast majority (80%) of ransomware attacks can be traced back to common configuration errors in software and devices, according to Microsoft.
The tech giant’s latest Cyber Signals report focuses on the ransomware as a service (RaaS) model, which it claims has democratized the ability to launch attacks to groups “without sophistication or advanced skills.”
Some RaaS programs now have over 50 affiliate groups on their books, Microsoft claimed.
For defenders, a key challenge is ensuring they don’t leave systems misconfigured, it added.
“Ransomware attacks involve decisions based on configurations of networks and differ for each victim even if the ransomware payload is the same,” the report argued.
“Ransomware culminates an attack that can include data exfiltration and other impact. Because of the interconnected nature of the cyber-criminal economy, seemingly unrelated intrusions can build upon each other.”
Although each attack is different, Microsoft pointed to missing or misconfigured security products and legacy configurations in enterprise apps as two key areas of risk exposure.
“Like smoke alarms, security products must be installed in the correct spaces and tested frequently. Verify that security tools are operating in their most secure configuration, and that no part of a network is unprotected,” it urged.
“Consider deleting duplicative or unused apps to eliminate risky, unused services. Be mindful of where you permit remote helpdesk apps like TeamViewer. These are notoriously targeted by threat actors to gain express access to laptops.”
Although not named in the report, another system regularly misconfigured and hijacked by ransomware actors is the remote desktop protocol (RDP), which often is not protected by a strong password or two-factor authentication. It’s widely believed to be one of the top three vectors for attack.
The bad news for network defenders is they don’t have much time after initial compromise to contain an attack. Microsoft claimed the median time for an attacker to begin moving laterally inside the network after device compromise is one hour, 42 minutes.
The median time for an attacker to access private data following a phishing email is one hour, 12 minutes, the firm added.
Among Microsoft’s recommendations for mitigating the ransomware threat are:
- Enhance credential hygiene
- Audit credential exposure
- Reduce the attack surface
- Harden the cloud
- Prevent security blind spots
- Stop initial access