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What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware. It encrypts a victim's data, after which the attacker demands a ransom.

How does a ransomware attack work?

Ransomware is a cybercrime where a hacker encrypts a victim's data with malicious software with the intent that the attacker must be paid before the system will be unlocked. Once the ransom is paid, the attacker should send a decryption key to restore access to the victim's data, but often the system is unlocked and the stolen data is held for as second ransom. The ransom can range from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars. Typically, payment is demanded in the form of a cryptocurrency, such as bitcoins.

Ransomware is typically distributed through a few main avenues. These include email phishing, malvertising (malicious malvertising), social engineering, and exploit kits. After ransomware is distributed, it encrypts selected files and notifies the victim of the required payment.

Ways to protect yourself from ransomware

Back up all your data

Make sure you have an enterprise data backup solution that can scale and won't experience bottlenecks when the time comes. In the event of an attack, you can power down the endpoint, reimage it, and reinstall your current backup. You will have all your data and prevent the ransomware from spreading to other systems.

Patch your systems

Make a habit of updating your software regularly. Patching commonly exploited third-party software will foil many attacks. If possible, turn on automatic patching.

Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA)

The weakest link in the security chain is usually human. Educate your users about whom and what to trust. Teach them to not fall for phishing or other schemes.

Protect your network

Take a layered approach, with security infused from the endpoint to email to the DNS layer. Use technologies such as a next-generation firewall (NGFW) or an intrusion prevention system (IPS).

Segment network access

Limit the resources that an attacker can access. By dynamically controlling access to resources based on sensitivity, like confidential or critical data, you help ensure that your entire network is not compromised in a single attack.

Keep a close eye on network activity

The ability to see everything happening across your network and data center can help you uncover attacks that bypass the perimeter. Deploy a demilitarized zone (DMZ) subnetwork or add a layer of security to your local area network (LAN). Leverage your security platform to effectively bring all the information together to triage, analyze, and respond quickly.

Prevent initial infiltration

Most ransomware infections occur through an email attachment or malicious download. Diligently block malicious websites, emails, and attachments through a layered security approach and a company-sanctioned file-sharing program.

Arm your endpoints

Antivirus solutions on your endpoints don't suffice anymore. Set up privileges so they perform tasks such as granting the appropriate network access or user permissions to endpoints. Two-factor authentications will also help.

Gain real-time threat intelligence

Know your enemy. Take advantage of threat intelligence from organizations such as Talos to understand the latest security information and become aware of emerging cybersecurity threats.

Engage with incident response specialists

Incident response teams provide a full suite of proactive and emergency services to help you prepare for, respond to, and recover from a breach.

The Future of Ransomware: Inside Cisco Talos Threat Hunters

See how Cisco Talos threat hunters identify new and evolving ransomware threats in the wild, and how their research and intelligence helps organizations build strong defenses.


Cisco XDR

With Cisco XDR, you'll be better prepared to take on the most sophisticated cyberattacks, and win.


Protect against ransomware and other threats

Our e-book explores many types of cyberthreats and explains why ransomware is especially problematic.


Cisco ransomware defense

Ransomware penetrates organizations in multiple ways, so fighting it requires a multi-front strategy.

Ransomware defense guide

Read this ransomware defense guide to learn how to defend against attacks and reduce ransomware risks. In this book, you will

  • See how ransomware operates and the three developments that have made it more pervasive and lucrative
  • Learn about strategies that reduce the risk and cost of ransomware, including what actions to take before, during, and after a ransomware attack
  • Understand network security architecture to better address modern threats, including ransomware
  • Learn about a ransomware defense solution that delivers effective protection against ransomware from the network to email, and the endpoint to the cloud
  • Learn 10 key ransomware defense takeaways

What is automated ransomware recovery?

Organizations can now automatically recover from ransomware attacks with the industry's latest innovative capabilities in Cisco Extended Detection and Response (XDR).