ramsomware attacks

Understanding Ransomware Attacks: 5 Stages of Ransomware Attack You Should Be Aware Of

Did you know that a ransomware attack is launched every 11 seconds? According to ransomware statistics,  the average downtime a company experiences after becoming a victim of a ransomware attack is 21 days. Not only that, the average ransom payment requested by attackers has jumped from $5000 in 2018 to $200,000 in 2020.

global ransomeware damage

Despite being such a deadly threat, very few businesses know about it let alone do something to protect themselves from it. In order to protect themselves from ransomware attacks, they first have to understand how it works. 

In this article, you will learn about five stages of ransomware attack and how you can protect your business from it.

5 Stages of Ransomware Attacks

Here are five stages involved in ransomware attacks.

1: Gaining Access

During the first stage, cyber attackers try to gain access. To do that, they use phishing attacks or exploit a vulnerability found in apps or services. Next, they try to distribute the access trojan such as Qakbot, Trickbot and Valak. Their core objective is to try to gain access to your data so they can encrypt it and ask for a ransom.

2: Post Exploitation

Once they have managed to get their foot into the door, the next step is to use a malware or remote access tool before doing any more damage. These remote access tools and malware allows them to load the access trojan and help them launch more offense by leveraging sophisticated tools. They use the initial access to find even more vulnerabilities and expand the attack surface.

3: Expansion

During this phase, the attacker spends time in developing an in-depth understanding of the system they have access to. They also try to steal credentials by using access trojans so they can move laterally through the system. Moreover, they use tools to get a list of domain controllers and privilege accounts so they can launch an active directory reconnaissance.

Some ransomware operators even try to transfer the output to text files, add them to archive or exfiltrate the data. In the vast majority of cases, attackers use loopholes in active directory to their advantage which also prevents security experts from identifying the cyberattackers and catching them.

stages of ransomware

It has also been observed that cyber criminals use protocols such as remote procedure call and server message block in order to move laterally. Meanwhile, ransomware operators conduct credential harvesting so they could get their hands on domain administrator privileges.

4: Data Collection

Ransomware attacks are becoming more sophisticated with the passage of time. Instead of using traditional tactics, more and more ransomware are now using double extortion tactics. They first steal your data and launch a ransomware attack later. At this stage, the core objective of the attacker is to find valuable data and exfiltrate.


They even use a staging system for data collection purposes and then exfiltrate data. A vast majority of data collection is done through databases by using server message block protocol. Sometimes, ransomware attackers even use custom or living off the land tools. Living off the land tools means that they are either operating system features or use legitimate tools for fulfilling their malicious desires.

5: Deployment

In order to distribute the malware, ransomware operators usually use domain controllers to deploy and distribute the malicious payload. Attackers use server message block protocol through a share on a domain controller and execute the payload by using tools like sExec, WMIC and RunDll32. They can even schedule this task by using different tools.

How To Protect Your Business From Ransomware Attack?

Now, you have understood the different stages involved in ransomware attacks, it is time to take steps to minimize the risk of ransomware attacks. Here are some of the things you can do to protect your business from ransomware attacks.

1: Restrict Privileged Access

The first thing you need to do is to limit privileged access. Reduce the number of privilege access accounts to a bare minimum. Remove or limit local administrator rights from these privileged accounts. Even if you are giving privileged access to someone, monitor their activities closely. 

2: Secure Privileged Accounts

Focus on protecting your privileged accounts so it does not give ransomware attackers access to critical data and allow them to move laterally through the network. To efficiently manage all your privileged accounts, you need to consider a privileged access management system. These solutions help you monitor and manage these accounts effectively and alert you to any suspicious behavior and activity taking place through your privileged access accounts.

Another great way to minimize the risk is to include privilege accounts to a protected user security group. This limits the credential exposure within the organization which means that even if a hacker manages to compromise some of the accounts in your organization, they won’t be able to gain access to your privileged accounts. You can also use managed service accounts as well as a local administrator password solution to automate and streamline password management for critical accounts which are more likely to be targeted by hackers.

3: Protect Active Directory

Ransomware attackers usually target active directory which is why it is important to segment your network. Configure systems in such a way that it disallows authentication requests coming through legacy protocols which have security vulnerabilities. Develop a group policy that allows domain administrator login. Make sure that every change to domain policy is verified and approved before making it go live. Constantly look out for the latest group policy changes so you don’t miss out on a change that a ransomware attacker could take advantage of.

active directory attack path

4: Safeguard against phishing attacks

In order to protect your business from phishing attacks, it is important to increase cybersecurity awareness in your employees. Organize employee training programs and test employees knowledge. Use an email security system that can filter malicious emails from legitimate ones. Keep a close eye on reply to all emails or emails that contain links or attachments.

Safeguard against phishing attacks

Which stage of ransomware attack is most dangerous? Share it with us in the comments section below.

Sarmad Hasan

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