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How DNS-layer security is effective in detecting and preventing Ransomware attacks

How DNS-layer security is effective in detecting and preventing Ransomware attacks

There has been a spate of ransomware attacks in the past year. High-profile incidents that hit the headlines included JBS group, the world's largest meat processing plant, the NBA basketball team Houston Rockets and the Colonial pipelines, and many more. As a result, millions of ransoms were paid to retrieve data and put the supply chain infrastructure up again. 

The frequency of the attacks and the high costs associated with it promoted cybersecurity professionals to look for more robust security solutions that could safely guard against ransomware attacks. The DNS- layer security solutions were looked at as the probable answer to detecting and blocking dangerous ransom campaigns. 

Cyberattacks target vulnerable networks. Hence, cybersecurity experts have been gathering data on the nature of the attack while researching the emerging threats, including the recent ransomware attacks. All of which have helped develop DNS- layer security solutions to tackle the network vulnerability. 

How does DNS- Layer security identify cyber threats? 

The Domain Name System, popularly known as DNS, allows users to connect different websites and update software, thus enabling the organizations to use its many applications. The DNS layer is the most vulnerable in a network, and security protocols rarely check them. They can go through many unblocked ports, and hence the sophisticated ransomware attacks are initiated at the DNS- layer. However, one can configure the DNS servers to gather empirical data for implementing defense algorithms or performing threat hunting. 

DNS-layer security solution providers who collect data from authoritative DNS logs can discover any potential attacks from malicious domains, IPs, ASNs, newly erected infrastructures. Also, the user request pattern reveals any work-in-progress attacks from compromised systems, commands, and controls. 

How do ransomware attacks happen? 

It is crucial to understand how ransomware attacks happen to take steps to prevent or mitigate any threats. 

Ransomware attacks technique, tactics, and procedures depend on different scenarios; the basic flow of the attack is more or less the same. 

  • A user navigates a compromised domain on the internet, and downloads a malicious program accidentally. 
  • The weaponized file launches a chain of events designed to put a framework meant to exploit the affected network. 
  • The malicious program then moves across the network laterally on to other computers. 
  • Infects multiple computers and encrypts data that is critical to the business. 
  • A new step got added in 2020 in ransomware attacks, and that is called data exfiltration.  

    Before encrypting the data, the malicious program first transports the business data from the victim's network onto the attacker's network using the DNS tunnels. The attacker does a double ransom, which means that the organization faces the potential risk of losing out its critical data. They also face the prospect of having them leaked online or sold on the dark web to the highest bidder. 

    The worrying aspect of such attacks is that ransomware takes as little as five hours to execute. The real-time in-progress attack can easily be missed out or detected unless one has a robust DNS-Layer security system designed to recognize such attacks.   

    Tools used in ransomware

    Most of the attacks are taking advantage of networks not securing their DNS-layer activity. The attackers rely on DNS tunneling to get control of the network, exfiltrate data and execute attack commands. 

    Examples of DNS tunneling attack techniques include:

    • High profile ransomware attacks used the DNS beacon that originates in Cobalt Strike penetration 
    • Using Sunburst for supply chain attack
    • Iran-based Oilrig group that uses Data exfiltration through DNS tunnels in its cyber spying campaigns.

    The common element in all the above frameworks is the DNS activity which is enough to understand that DNS-Layered security is crucial for countering future ransomware attacks. 

    Prevention and attack mitigation is required to counter ransomware attacks then only the protection will be complete. Data gathered from recursive DNS servers identify threats. Still, protection from future attacks is possible when users make sure not to connect to suspicious domains, i.e., stopping attacks before they can commence and detecting unusual activities in the DNS- Layer. These activities indicate attacks in progress, giving the security team enough time to isolate the infected system and mitigate damage. 

    Protection that identifies and prevents Ransomware attacks 

    The DNS-layer security solution is to prevent attacks from occurring in the first place. It is the favored approach many organizations prefer, and with good reason. This tactic prevents any losses from post-exploitation.

    The algorithms used by the traditional recursive DNS servers’ flags of risky domains are not enough, and the inbuilt defense leaves much to be desired. They evaluate a domain's reputation and age when deciding whether a user should be allowed to connect to it, but are tricked into the trap of the bad actors with staged domains of good reputation to pass through the DNS-layer security protocols.

    Many security solution providers overcome these shortcomings by configuring recursive DNS servers to flag any suspicious domains for in-depth review before allowing users to connect. This strategy weeds out dangerous domains and helps to minimize the vulnerability windows of users to just a few minutes from too few minutes.

    Protection that identifies in-progress attacks 

    Prevention of the initial compromise is not enough, and bad actors are constantly evolving methods to pass the most tightly knit defense. So even if protection is there, mechanisms are required to detect the ongoing progress of attacks.

    Incorporating a system that flags off any abnormal DNS tunneling in a network can be unidirectional and bi-directional communication between an attacker and the network systems. If the DNS activity is not secure, the attackers stay under the radar until their attack gets executed. But if the DNS-layer security solution is carefully monitored, they will be able to track the network DNS activity and start mitigating the effects of the attack before they become disastrous. 

    Security solution providers offer their clients an integrated package that provides the best protection, such as DNS-layer security algorithms, real-time behavioral detection, and real-time heuristics. While selecting a service provider, one can check their performance through real-time statistics to block connections to malicious domains. 

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