What Is Ransomware Detection?

Kurt Baker - January 30, 2023

Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to files or encrypts files until victims pay cybercriminals a steep ransom. If the victim doesn’t pay, the criminals could leak data or continue to block file access. It’s a nightmare for businesses, who, according to CrowdStrike’s Global Security Attitude Survey, may receive demands of up to $6 million USD to regain their digital property.

How can you stay safe from malicious code that hides itself until the damage is already done?

You can protect your sensitive data from attacks through early ransomware detection and a quick, effective response plan.

Ransomware Detection Definition

Ransomware detection is the first defense against dangerous malware. Ransomware stays hidden in an infected computer until files are blocked or encrypted. Victims often can’t detect the malware until they receive the ransom demand. Ransomware detection finds the infection earlier so that victims can take action to prevent irreversible damage.

How It Works

In a ransomware attack, reaction time matters. Ransomware detection works by identifying unusual activity and automatically alerting users. When users receive an alert, they can stop the spread of the virus immediately, before valuable or sensitive files can be encrypted. All they have to do is isolate the computer from the network, remove the ransomware and then restore the computer from a safe backup.

You won’t have to wait for an unreliable decryption key to recover your system; with swift action and a healthy backup schedule, your files may never be lost.

Examples of Ransomware Detection

Many cybersecurity systems prevent ransomware infections by monitoring running systems for unusual files or activity.

Another type of ransomware detection functions as much more than a surveillance camera. For example, threat detection services may use teams of cybersecurity experts who manage active threat hunting. These analysts will continuously search a network for unusual or malicious actions automated systems may not detect.

2024 CrowdStrike Global Threat Report

The 2024 Global Threat Report unveils an alarming rise in covert activity and a cyber threat landscape dominated by stealth. Data theft, cloud breaches, and malware-free attacks are on the rise. Read about how adversaries continue to adapt despite advancements in detection technology.

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Benefits of Early Ransomware Detection and Response

No one is immune to cyberattacks. Ransomware operators will target any size company and even individuals to maximize their profits. Attempts tend to focus on companies that have weaker or out-of-date security systems, but many ransomware variants do not discriminate. They target any system they can breach.

It’s clear that everyone can benefit from early ransomware detection, but small- and medium-sized companies may get the most out of cybersecurity. Large companies can recover quickly from a ransomware incident. However, a data breach could devastate a small company with fewer resources.

Losses You Can Avoid

The biggest loss that most people consider in a ransomware attack is the money. Demands can be as high as millions of dollars. In fact, the CrowdStrike 2022 Global Threat Report shows that ransom payments went up by 63% in 2021. Replacing a corrupted system is also expensive and takes valuable time.

Ransomware detection helps you avoid losing your data. In many attacks, victims never regain their original files. Your data will be lost forever without a recent backup. Endpoint detection, which is one protective strategy against viruses, can stop malware the moment attackers gain initial access. You can keep your sensitive data safer with this data protection in place.

If you’re considering investing in early ransomware detection, your cost calculations must include what you stand to lose without protection. You may not be able to afford the recovery after an advanced malware attack.

Types of Ransomware Detection and Their Techniques

The earlier you can detect an attack, the safer your data will be. There are three primary ways to detect ransomware: by signature, by behavior and by abnormal traffic.

Detection by Signature

Malware carries a unique signature composed of information like domain names, IP addresses and other indicators that identify it. Signature-based detection uses a library of these signatures to compare them to active files running on a machine. This is the most basic method of detecting malware, but it’s not always effective.

Ransomware attackers can create novel versions of malware with new signatures for every attack. Signature-based malware detection can’t identify what it doesn’t recognize. This leaves systems vulnerable to every new malware variant.

Detection by Behavior

Ransomware behaves in an unusual way: it opens dozens of files and replaces them with encrypted versions. Behavior-based ransomware detection can monitor for this unusual activity and alert users to it. This method of detection can also help users stay protected against other common cyberattacks.

Detection by Abnormal Traffic

Abnormal traffic detection is an extension of behavior-based detection, but it works at the network level. Sophisticated ransomware attacks are often twofold: they encrypt data to ransom, but they also steal data before encrypting it to use as extra leverage. This leads to large data transfers to outside systems.

While ransomware can cover its tracks and conceal the transfers, it may create network traffic that can be tracked. Abnormal traffic detection can trace back to the ransomware on the machine so that users can delete it.

Ways to Respond to a Ransomware Attack

You’re not defenseless against a ransomware attack! When early detection warns you of a possible attack, you can protect your data by taking action right away.

The first step you should take to secure your data is performing regular backups. Ransomware can spread to infect an entire network. Keep sensitive data backed up separately from your main system so that if you lose access in a cyberattack, you can recover quickly.

Once you detect an infection, your next step is to isolate the infected computers to keep it from spreading. Then, use the ransom messages to identify the strain you’re dealing with and report it to the authorities. After that, restore your backups and plan your defense for the next attack.

It’s also necessary to stay prepared for an attack. You can make sure your security is adequate by undergoing regular penetration testing. These tests will find holes in your security before they become a liability.

How to Report a Ransomware Attack

Your clients and your employees could be at risk in the event of a cyberattack. If ransomware breaches your company’s data, you may need to report it to the authorities. While data breach legislation doesn’t exist at the national level, there are state regulations that will outline your next steps. Most states require that you inform all impacted individuals of the breach.

You also need to report the incident to federal law enforcement. They have the resources to potentially track down the criminals and prevent future attacks. Usually, you should report to the FBI, though other agencies will take reports as well.

Paying Attackers

The FBI recommends that victims of ransomware not make any kind of ransom payment. Paying the ransom leaves victims with no guarantees of recovering their files and encourages criminals to target more victims.

In fact, you may end up paying more as well. CrowdStrike’s survey found that 96% of victims who paid the ransom also paid additional extortion fees. Additionally, criminals may share your information on the dark web, making you a target for other attacks. Plus, the Office of Foreign Assets Control could fine you for paying certain ransomware attackers.

Dangers of Ransomware

Ransomware is a growing threat because it’s one of the most profitable ventures a cybercriminal can undertake.

The dangers of ransomware extend beyond a company’s bottom line. CrowdStrike’s threat report shows an 82% increase in ransomware-related data leaks in 2021. In addition to monetary losses, targeted companies could permanently lose their data as well as the trust of their clients.

Keep Your Data Safe with Ransomware Detection

Ransomware is a threat that costs businesses billions of dollars every year, but there are measures you can take to protect yourself against the growing danger. Using early detection methods and ensuring you have a plan in place can keep cybercriminals out of your sensitive files.

Learn More

The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform can be a part of your ransomware protection plan. It’s an AI-powered, behavior-based detection system that can stop encryption before your files are blocked. Stay ahead of the threats with ransomware detection that can identify and respond to security risks.Learn more about the Falcon platform here


Kurt Baker is the senior director of product marketing for Falcon Intelligence at CrowdStrike. He has over 25 years of experience in senior leadership positions, specializing in emerging software companies. He has expertise in cyber threat intelligence, security analytics, security management and advanced threat protection. Prior to joining CrowdStrike, Baker worked in technical roles at Tripwire and had co-founded startups in markets ranging from enterprise security solutions to mobile devices. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Washington and is now based in Boston, Massachusetts.