Handling Ransomware Attacks: Detailed Incident Response Steps

Imagine working tirelessly for months on a project, then suddenly losing access to everything. Your files are locked, and a ransom note demands thousands of dollars for their return. That’s the terrifying reality of ransomware – and it’s not just businesses that are targeted — as an individual, you can lose precious photos and documents just as easily.

This is why having a robust incident response (IR) plan is crucial. I’ve seen the devastation firsthand – the panic, the lost time, the financial strain. However, a well-crafted plan can help you minimize the damage and get your systems (and your life!) back on track.

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll cover to help you prepare for the worst:

  • Steps to take immediately upon suspecting a ransomware attack
  • How to analyze what happened and limit the damage
  • Recovery and getting your data back
  • Lessons learned to make your defenses stronger for the future

Part 1: Pre-Incident Preparation

If you are able to plan defenses before you get attacked, it allows you to handle ransomware attacks seamlessly. Here’s what you have to know: 

Data Backups: Your Ultimate Lifeline

It sounds basic, but reliable backups are your ransom-proof safety net. Ensure to make them regular (think daily for super-critical data), test the backups often (a backup that can’t be restored is worthless), and make it a policy to keep at least one copy offline or using immutable technology. This way, even if all your systems get locked down, you’ve got clean data ready to recover from after a ransomware attack. 

Vulnerability Management: Shutting the Doors on Attackers

Cyberattackers and hackers love exploiting your software flaws. Ensure that every software you use in the office goes through regular patching, updating systems — hardening your setup and boarding up windows. A lot of ransomware cases that I have encountered are where ransomware gets in through simple oversights – don’t make it easy for them!

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Network Segmentation: Containing the Fire

Imagine your network as a building with firewalls between rooms. Segmentation will limit how far a ransomware attack can spread in your organizational network. Just picture a finance department isolated from your design teams. Even if one of the computers is compromised, the rest of your network will be better protected.

Security Awareness Training: Your Human Firewall

Train your employees to be the first line of defense against ransomware and cyberattacks! So, ensure to train them to identify phishing emails, suspicious links, and unusual behavior. I’ve seen entire companies saved because one employee hit ‘report’ instead of opening a shady attachment.

Incident Response Plan: Your Battle Map

Don’t wait until disaster strikes to figure out what to do. A clear plan with designated roles, steps to take, and who to contact (internally and externally) will save precious time and stress when every second counts.

Remember, being proactive and having a ransomware response plan is always cheaper and less stressful than reacting in a crisis. Ask about my experience helping a panicked client who had ZERO preparation – that was a rough recovery process!

Part 2: Identification and Containment

Think of those first few moments of realizing you’ve got ransomware like a fire alarm going off. But don’t hesitate a second! 

Just isolate infected machines. One of the customers’ laptops that we recovered last year was made possible because we caught that infection early because she knew to look for weird file changes. 

It’s crucial to preserve evidence – logs, and screenshots, like a detective collecting clues. And document everything – this saved us during John’s incident (one of my clients), helping us figure out where things went wrong. 

Communication is key between departments. Ensure to get IT involved, the boss should be informed as well, and if it looks serious, don’t be afraid to call in law enforcement.

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Part 3: Analysis and Investigation

Not all ransomwares are created equal. You have to know the specific strain that has attacked your systems for potential decryption tools and understanding attacker techniques. You can think of it like identifying the type of poison to find the antidote. Find out:

  • Which systems are locked down? 
  • Any files on the network? 
  • Did it just hit a personal computer or are core business systems affected? 

This allows you to determine the scale of recovery you’ll need. Additionally, find out:

  • Did the ransomware just lock files, or was data copied too? 

This has MASSIVE legal implications and is often tricky to uncover. The documents have just not been robbed, but the attackers also stole copies of your private documents that they can potentially leak.

Part 4: Eradication and Recovery

Decision-making comes in.  First, use reputable security tools and if it looks complex, don’t hesitate to call in a professional incident response team — they’ve got specialized techniques to remove the infection safely.

Sadly, there’s no magic decryption button in most cases against ransomware attacks. You will have to find a reliable tool for a specific type of ransomware attack that has hit your organization. 

Part 5: Post-Incident Review and Lessons Learned

Of course, once the dust settles, you will have to analyze what went wrong and how to improve your systems to counter ransomware attacks in the future. First, uncover how the ransomware entered your systems: 

  • Was it a phishing email, an unpatched software vulnerability, or something else? 

Review your Response Plan: 

  • Did your incident response plan work as planned?
  • Where were the smooth parts, and the process that made the response plan chaotic.


Ransomware isn’t going anywhere any time soon. In fact, cyberattacks are on a rise and they are coming with novel ways to attack your systems. It’s always best to be proactive when it comes to cyberattacks. So, ensure to create a pre-incident response plan — where backups, security, and training of your employees will pay off in the long run — and be helpful when disaster strikes. 

In all, if you do face an attack, you will have to act quickly and decisively. And that is only possible if you have a ransomware response plan.