The Benefits of Ransomware Penetration Testing

The Benefits of Ransomware Penetration Testing

Have you heard? Ransomware attacks are growing at a staggering 100% increase year over year, despite advancements in cybersecurity technologies and processes.

Due to cybercriminals utilizing increasingly sophisticated techniques to target organizations of all sizes and sectors, it has never been more critical to ensure that your networks, systems, and data are secured–and that includes understanding the role Ransomware Penetration Testing plays in guaranteeing that.

Today, our partners at Packetlabs Ltd. dive into what Ransomware Pentesting is, its increasing importance in 2024 and beyond, and FAQs regarding the service.

Let’s get started:

Firstly, What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is defined as a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files and demands a ransom payment in order to decrypt them. In recent years, ransomware attacks have become increasingly common as attackers have realized that they can profitably target both individuals and organizations.

The most common types of ransomware in 2024 include, but are not limited to:

  • Crypto Ransomware: Encryptors are one of the most well-known and damaging variants. This type encrypts the files and data within a system, making the content inaccessible without a decryption key
  • Scareware: Scareware is fake software that claims to have detected a virus or other issue on your computer and directs you to pay to resolve the problem. Some types of scareware lock the computer, while others simply flood the screen with pop-up alerts without actually damaging files
  • Doxware: Leakware threatens to distribute sensitive personal or company information online, and many people panic and pay the ransom to prevent private data from falling into the wrong hands or entering the public domain. One variation is police-themed ransomware, which claims to be law enforcement and warns that illegal online activity has been detected, but jail time can be avoided by paying a fine
  • Ransomware as a Service (RaaS): Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) refers to malware hosted anonymously by a “professional” hacker that handles all aspects of the attack, from distributing ransomware to collecting payments and restoring access, in return for a cut of the loot

Ransomware has evolved to now include double and triple extortion ransoms. These variants not only encrypt a victim’s files but also threaten to publish or delete the data unless a larger ransom is paid.

Cybersecurity Statistics to Know (Regarding Ransomware Attacks)

How prevalent are ransomware attacks?

In recent years, we’ve seen that: 

  • The average ransomware payment is increasing by 82% year-over-year
  • 81% of cybersecurity experts believe that sophisticated ransomware attacks are on the rise
  • New variants of ransomware grew by 46% in 2019 alone
  • Businesses fall victim to a ransomware attack every 14 seconds
  • Ransomware has become one of the most popular forms of cyberattacks, growing 350% since 2018
  • The average cost of a ransomware attack as of 2023 is $1.85 million
  • By 2031, a ransomware attack is predicted to happen every two seconds
  • Ransomware accounts for 10% of all security breaches worldwide
  • On average, ransomware-related breaches took 49 days longer than other types of breaches to identify and contain
  • In the first half of 2022 alone, organizations worldwide saw 236.7 million ransomware cyberattacks

These statistics have helped inform organizations’ cybersecurity roadmaps and solidified decisions to invest in Ransomware Penetration Testing. 

The Importance of Proactive Ransomware Penetration Testing

Starting in 2021, ransomware damages were estimated to be around $20 billion USD — an almost 60x increase above the recorded costs in 2015. These forecasted damages are expected to reach a staggering $250 billion USD by 2031.

As such, organizations need to be proactive in their approach to security and ensure that they have comprehensive defenses in place to protect against this growing threat. Penetration testing can play a critical role in an organization’s ransomware defense strategy: by simulating a real-life ransomware attack, teams can then identify and fix vulnerabilities before attackers have a chance to exploit them. In addition, Ransomware Penetration Testing can help organizations assess their ability to respond to and recover from a hypothetical ransomware attack.

By understanding the potential impact of a ransom-related attack on their business operations, organizations can then make more proactive decisions about their overall security posture (and invest appropriately in defense strategies.)

One of the top benefits of proactive Ransomware Penetration Testing is its ability to shorten the average cyberattack lifecycle–which, as of 2023, is an estimated 24 days on average. Other stats surrounding the length of cyberattacks  include, but are not limited to:

However, ensuring that an organization's cybersecurity is up to regulatory standards can help diminish both the risk of an attack and the financial and reputational losses that may be faced in the wake of a successful one.

What Does a Ransomware Pentest Include?

Ransomware Penetration Testing includes a full penetration test as well as both technical and non-technical assessments that gauge an organization's level of cybersecurity maturity, identify security gaps in people, processes, and technology across an organization, and test an organization's ability to respond to and recover from a ransomware attack.

More specifically, these components encompass:

  • A Full Penetration Test: All applicable activities from Packetlabs' Objective-based Penetration Testing (OBPT), Infrastructure Penetration Testing (IPT), and Application Security Testing (AST) service offerings
  • A Technical Ransomware Assessment: An overview of an organization’s IT infrastructure to uncover attack surfaces that ransomware attackers will find attractive. This includes a detailed review of on-prem network and endpoint configurations, cloud application configurations, and authentication and encryption mechanisms. The result is a list of security gaps and weaknesses that could allow ransomware to impact critical systems and data
  • A Non-Technical Ransomware Assessment: An evaluation of an organization's administrative policies, controls, and risk strategy and compares them to industry standard best practices to determine an organization's level of cybersecurity preparedness and estimate its ability to respond to and recover from a ransomware attack. The result is a list of observations and recommendations for preventing ransomware attacks

Together, the Packetlabs’ Ransomware Penetration Testing offering accurately measures the potential impact of known TTP commonly used by ransomware threat actors and provides insight that can be directly translated into improved security policies and controls.

Other Penetration Testing Options

Penetration testing is not one-size-fits-all.

At Packetlabs, their other flexible offerings encapsulate:

  • DevSecOps: DevSecOps is integrated early in your development cycle and acts as an extension of your development team to flag vulnerabilities within your existing detected management systems
  • Red Teaming: Red Teaming is a full-scope simulated attack designed to get a holistic review of the level of risk and vulnerabilities across people, processes, and tech in an organization
  • Purple Teaming: Purple Teaming is a collaborative testing exercise where the Packetlabs red team works with your internal security operations team (or blue team) to bridge the gap between offensive techniques and response efforts
  • Cyber Maturity Assessments: A Cyber Maturity Assessment supports the tactical direction of your cybersecurity strategy. As the first step in strengthening your security posture, this assessment generates the roadmap to strengthen your overall security program
  • Compromise Assessments: A Compromise Assessment uncovers past or present threats like zero-day malware, trojans, ransomware, and other anomalies that may go unnoticed in standard automated vulnerability scans
  • OT Assessments: OT Cybersecurity Assessments simulate the likelihood of an attacker reaching the control center from an external and internal perspective with production-safe testing
  • Cloud Penetration Testing: Multiple perspectives help with strengthening your security posture. These include Cloud Penetration Testing, which simulates an attacker in the environment, and a Cloud Penetration Review, which provides insights into cloud-specific vulnerabilities originating from an insecure configuration. Each of these services can be conducted separately or, for maximum effectiveness, combined as an enhanced cloud security bundle
  • Objective-based Penetration Testing: Following a preliminary penetration test, objective-based testing conducts a more advanced simulated cybersecurity attack. The test is conducted by persistent ethical hackers who deploy multiphase attacks to gain access to your organization's data so that you can discover gaps and vulnerabilities unique to your organization and test your ability to detect and respond to threat actor
  • Application Security Testing: More targeted in scope than a regular pentest, application security testing uncovers vulnerabilities residing in your web and mobile apps. Application Security Testing actively explores your application from an attacker’s perspective
  • Infrastructure Penetration Testing: An infrastructure penetration testing assessment uncovers vulnerabilities in your IT and network systems and provides a tailored approach to each environment

These are in addition to the Packetlabs Portal, which enables you to quickly view findings, prioritize efforts, request retests after remediation, and monitor progress.

Ransomware FAQs

Question: “I’ve been targeted by ransomware. Should I pay?”

Answer: Paying the ransom may seem like the easiest way to get your data back, but it is not always that simple. For one, there is no guarantee that you will receive the decryption key after paying. In some cases, cybercriminals have been known to take the money and still not provide the key. Additionally, by paying the ransom, you are essentially funding the cybercriminal's future ransomware attacks.

Additional risks include potential reputational damage or fines resulting from the release of customer data, loss of competitive advantage as a result of sensitive information being published, or lost revenues caused by downtime in the case of denial-of-service (DOS) attacks. These factors can all make paying ransom an attractive option.

The best action is proactive action. Having the right security controls and processes in place can help mitigate the risk of a ransomware attack and even help recover from the attack by restoring your systems and data from backups.

Q: "How long does it take to decrypt ransomware?"

A: This year's average for decrypting ransomware is one-to-two weeks.

Q: "Does ransomware impact data integrity?"

A: Absolutely. Data can be corrupted, altered, or otherwise compromised in the wake of a ransomware attack.

Q: “What are the impacts of ransomware?”

A: Ransomware can be devastating to an individual or an organization. Some victims pay to recover their files, but there is no guarantee that they will recover their files if they do. Recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist.

Ransomware incidents can severely impact business processes and leave organizations without the data they need to operate and deliver mission-critical services. The monetary value of ransom demands has increased, with some demands exceeding $1 million. Ransomware incidents have become more destructive and impactful in nature and scope. The economic and reputational impacts of ransomware incidents, throughout the initial disruption and, at times, extended recovery, have also proven challenging for organizations large and small.

Q: “How can I mitigate the risk of a successful ransomware attack?”

A: The CISA recommends the following precautions to protect users against the threat of ransomware:

  • Update software and operating systems with the latest patches. Outdated applications and operating systems are the target of most attacks
  • Never click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails
  • Back up data on a regular basis. Keep it on a separate device and store it offline.
  • Follow safe practices when using devices that connect to the Internet. Read Good Security Habits for additional details

Q: "Do all ransomware attacks use encryption to prevent access to data?"

A: Yes. Some variants will also take steps to delete backup and shadow copies of files to increase the difficulty of recovering without a decryption key.

Q: "What percentage of ransomware victims get their data back?"

A: Beginning in 2022, around 72% of ransomware victims retrieved their data. However, this does not account for the intact files, reputational and financial damages sustained during (and after) an attack, or a quick data retrieval.

Q: “What are best practices against ransomware?”

A: The U.S. Government recommends that organizations employ the following best practices to mitigate common ransomware threats:

  • Restrict users’ permissions to install and run software applications, and apply the principle of “least privilege” to all systems and services. Restricting these privileges may prevent malware from running or limit its capability to spread through a network
  • Use application allow listing to allow only approved programs to run on a network
  • Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing emails from reaching the end users and authenticate inbound email to prevent email spoofing
  • Scan all incoming and outgoing emails to detect threats and filter executable files from reaching end users
  • Configure firewalls to block access to known malicious IP addresses

Final Thoughts

When it comes to being the target of a ransomware attack, it’s not a matter of “if”–it’s a matter of “when.” And in the fight against threat actors, offensive security is power. Proactive Ransomware Penetration Testing has never been more critical for organizations of all sizes, across all industries.

The ethical hackers at Packetlabs are excited to partner with Halo Security to offer organizations a larger scope of solutions to strengthen their security posture.

As a CREST and SOC 2 Type II accredited penetration testing firm, Packetlabs’ 95% manual pentesting goes beyond industry standards. Their best-in-class methodology digs deeper to deliver more; they offer several solutions that push the envelope on security–and guarantee full regulatory and cyber insurance compliance. Download their ransomware prevention and response checklist today to ensure you have the necessary people, processes, and technology in place to prevent a potentially devastating ransomware attack.

About Packetlabs

Packetlabs is a CREST-certified, SOC 2 Type II accredited cybersecurity firm specializing in penetration testing services across North America.  We partner with SMBs, enterprises, and MSPs across the industries of healthcare, law, retail, and more to provide 360-degree solutions that are over 95% manual.

Editors Note: A version of this blog post originally appeared on November 8, 2022 and was updated on April 25, 2024.