Understanding the difference between ransomware attack and data breach

Riskxchange Understanding the differences between ransomware attacks and data breaches RiskXchange The leader in Third-Party Cyber Risk Management

RiskXchange uses data-driven insights to prevent ransomware attacks and data breaches in your organisation.

Data breaches and ransomware attacks are two completely different kinds of hacks which are increasing worldwide. However, the line between the two has somewhat narrowed of late. What is the difference between ransomware attack and data breach? Let’s take a look at both.

What is a data breach?

Put simply, a data breach is a cybersecurity system violation, in which sensitive data is viewed, copied, stolen, or used by an unauthorised individual. Data breaches can also be referred to as a data leak, data spill or information leakage.

What is a ransomware attack?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files. The malicious actor will demand a ransom from the victim to restore access to sensitive data upon payment. Victims will receive instructions for how to pay a fee to receive a decryption key to regain access to their data.

What’s the difference between ransomware attack and data breach?

The fundamental difference between the two cyber threats is the speed and degree of data compromise. Up until recently, ransomware attacks didn’t typically lead to sensitive data being exposed to the public. Malicious actors encrypt the data and make it inaccessible to anyone without the description key. The result of this attack is to receive payment from the victim so that they can once again access their data. The modus operandi of this attacker is not to access the data themselves (because it’s too time consuming), but simply to decrypt it and make money from ransom demands.

A data breach differs in the sense that sensitive data is deliberately accessed so that it can be compromised – mainly sold to other sources. Although monetary gain is one motivation behind data breaches, hacktivist groups also steal and publish data to expose entities that are not in alignment with their own agendas.

When ransomware attacks and data breaches merge

However, the line between ransomware attacks and data breaches has been narrowing of late. Ever since the FBI stated that organisations should never comply with ransom demands, hackers have come up with aggressive counterattacks to persuade victims otherwise.

What are now known as ‘modern ransomware attacks’ sees sensitive data exfiltrated before being encrypted with ransomware. Due to this strategy becoming extremely effective in recent years, it’s fast-becoming the standard route for malicious actors to conduct modern ransomware attacks. Exfiltrating data not only creates a sense of urgency, but it also allows cybercriminals the ability to defame the victim if they won’t pay up. A prime example of this is Maze ransomware. If a Maze victim fails to pay, a press release is instantly distributed to the media outlining the attack which can cause millions of dollars of damage to the reputation of the organisation and for the lost data itself.  

Is a ransomware attack a data breach?

Modern ransomware attack is now encroaching on data breach territory, which makes it a data breach. Therefore, notification requirements for regulated industries should be re-evaluated. There are a number of regulations out there that enforce data breach victims to notify all parties and government agencies of a cyber incident. All 50 states in America, as well as the EU, Brazil, China, and India, have implemented data breach notification regulations, the two sternest being GDPR (in the EU) and HIPAA.

Notification requirements for ransomware attacks and data breaches

Cybersecurity regulations require data breaches to be reported to the relevant bodies as soon as possible. Reporting can vary from country to country, from state to state, depending on the severity of the breach and the likelihood of sensitive data being leaked. To avoid being fined, supervisory bodies should be notified of a breach within 24 hours, and no later than 72 hours. Most regulatory standards, including the GDPR, require compliance within that timescale, and within most countries around the world.

How to prevent data breaches and ransomware attacks

As the overlap between data breaches and ransomware attacks increase, they need a complete cyber security incident response. To prevent events from progressing to notification decisions, a security framework which minimises the possibility of cybercrime should also be implemented.

A security framework can be deployed in the following five phases:

1. Educate staff

All employees should be trained to identify attack vectors and to be on the lookout for anything which may appear suspicious. Educating staff on basic social engineering scams like phishing, and sophisticated cybersecurity threats like ransomware attacks, or on threats which are designed to steal personal data or intellectual property is key to helping staff stay vigilant. 

2. Keep third-party software up-to-date

Software providers often issue security patches to amend exploitable vulnerabilities and are available through the latest software updates. Company software must be kept updated at all times, especially antivirus software to ensure you keep on top of the latest cybersecurity threats. The Common Vulnerabilities & Exposures (CVE) database must also be referenced on a regular basis to discover vulnerabilities that haven’t yet been addressed by impacted parties.

3. Monitor an attack surface

Continuously monitoring your system is key to avoiding attack. Mapping out your attack surface is essential so that it is clear what exactly should be monitored. Not only does mapping out the entire company attack surface pinpoint new technology and networks, but also uncovers forgotten assets, older systems, and unpatched issues that are leaving you wide open to attack. 

4. Regular risk assessments

It’s also important to conduct regular risk assessments and continuously monitor the security posture of your entire vendor network. Risk assessments should be conducted on a regular basis to identify any deficiencies against relevant cybersecurity frameworks. Instant risk ratings should also be referenced to verify the legitimacy of remediation efforts and risk assessment responses.

5. Tier third-party vendors

Tiering third-party vendors based on their level of security risk makes categorising them easier. This ensures that the vendors with the highest likelihood of compromise are managed with far greater attention. This approach to Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM) greatly mitigates the potential of data breaches and ransomware attacks occurring through the most complex attack surface – the entire third-party network.

Get in touch with RiskXchange to find out more about ransomware attacks and data breaches.

How RiskXchange can help

RiskXchange is one of the firms leading the fight against cybercrime, coming up with novel solutions to everyday problems experienced at the hands of hackers.

With full visibility over your eco-systems’ entire attack surface in near real-time, you can regularly monitor and mitigate risks to prevent unnecessary exposures. Our passive data collection methods are effective and have no impact on your network performance. Using data-driven insights to prevent breaches is the best way to reduce an attack surface and prevent cyberattacks. 

About RiskXchange

RiskXchange provides a powerful AI-assisted, yet simple automated and centralised 360-degree cybersecurity risk rating management approach. We generate objective and quantitative reporting on a company’s cyber security risk and performance, which enables organisations with evolving business requirements to conduct business securely in today’s open and collaborative digital world. 

RiskXchange is an information security technology company, which helps companies of all sizes fight the threat of cyber threats by providing instant risk ratings for any company across the globe. RiskXchange was founded and is led by recognised experts within the security industry, who have held leading roles within companies such as IBM Security.  Find out more here.