Ransomware attacks have become increasingly common in recent years. These malicious software programs encrypt files on a system and demand a ransom payment in order to decrypt them. Recovering from a ransomware attack can be a difficult and time-consuming process.
How long does it take to recover from a ransomware attack?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to ransomware recovery times. The amount of time it takes to recover depends on a variety of factors:
- The specific strain of ransomware involved
- The extent of the encryption on the infected system
- Whether or not backups are available
- The size and complexity of the affected network
- The response plan in place and resources available
That said, most ransomware recovery efforts take at least several days, and many take weeks or even months to fully return to normal operations.
Typical Ransomware Recovery Timeline
While the exact timeline varies, a typical ransomware recovery goes through the following general phases and durations:
|Initial attack identification and containment||24-48 hours|
|Assessing damage and building recovery plan||3-5 days|
|Restoring systems from backups||3 days – 3 weeks|
|Rebuilding corrupted systems||1-4 weeks|
|Validation testing of restored systems||1-2 weeks|
|Total Recovery Time||2 weeks – 3 months|
Factors That Increase Recovery Time
Certain issues can dramatically increase the amount of time it takes to recover from a ransomware event, including:
- No backups or outdated backups available
- Highly sophisticated or custom-made ransomware
- Ransomware that lays dormant before encrypting
- Widespread infection across networks and systems
- Poorly documented network environment
- Understaffed or untrained incident response team
Factors That Decrease Recovery Time
On the other hand, some best practices can help minimize ransomware recovery times:
- Regular automated backups to isolated storage
- Network segmentation to prevent lateral spread
- Effective security awareness training for staff
- Incident response plan with defined roles
- Backup restoration testing and drills
- Offsite malware analysis capabilities
Recovery Time Based on Ransomware Type
Certain ransomware variants tend to be quicker or slower to recover from. Here are some examples of typical recovery times based on prominent ransomware families:
- Targeted ransomware often deployed via RDP
- Relatively slow encryption process
- Average recovery time: 2-4 weeks
- Also known as REvil, targets MSPs and supply chains
- Very robust and aggressive encryption
- Average recovery time: 1-3 months
- Delivered through trojan malware infections
- Moderate encryption speed and capabilities
- Average recovery time: 1-2 weeks
- Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) model
- Typically has quick encryption process
- Average recovery time: Over 1 month
Impact of Ransom Payment on Recovery
One question that often arises during ransomware attacks is whether paying the ransom speeds up recovery. There are a few considerations here:
- Paying the ransom does not guarantee files will be decrypted properly, if at all
- Cybercriminals may still have backdoors into the system after payment
- Paying ransoms funds criminal organizations and incentivizes more attacks
- Fines may apply for making ransom payments in certain industries
In most cases, paying the ransom only saves a modest amount of time, if any. Proper backups and restoration procedures are faster and more reliable. The FBI recommends never paying ransoms.
How Long Before Ransomware Recovery Can Begin?
The very first step in recovering from a ransomware attack is identifying that an attack has occurred and containing the infection. This is critical to stop the spread of ransomware across networks.
On average, it takes 24-48 hours from the start of an attack to ascertain what malware is involved and contain it. This includes disconnecting infected systems and restoring backups. Only after containment can the recovery process begin.
Delays in detecting and containing ransomware exponentially increase recovery timeframes. It underscores the need for prompt attack identification and response capabilities.
Average Ransomware Recovery Costs
In addition to being very time-consuming, ransomware attacks also prove very costly to remediate. According to various studies, the average total cost of recovery from a ransomware attack is:
- Small businesses: $84,000 – $120,000
- Medium businesses: $283,000 – $446,000
- Large enterprises: $1.27 million – $2 million
This accounts for a wide range of direct and indirect costs, including:
- Cost of replacement hardware/software
- Recovery services and forensic analysis
- Employee downtime and overtime
- Business disruption and revenue loss
- Reputational harm and customer loss
Having cyber insurance can help offset some of these ransomware recovery costs. But the best approach is investing in security controls to reduce risk.
Differences in Recovery by Industry
The impact of ransomware can vary significantly across different industries. Some sectors tend to be harder hit by ransomware attacks and have greater challenges recovering. For example:
- Strict data privacy requirements
- Highly complex networks and systems
- Life-critical stakes limit system downtime
- Average recovery time of 2-4 months
- Often understaffed IT teams
- Decentralized networks and many endpoints
- Can withstand some downtime during summer
- Average recovery time of 3-8 weeks
- Highly sensitive data requiring protection
- Quite resilient with good funding
- Extensive recovery testing capabilities
- Average recovery time of 2-5 weeks
Understanding the unique challenges and resources of one’s industry is key to an efficient ransomware recovery.
Recovery Expectations for Cloud vs. On-Prem Environments
Recovering from ransomware also depends greatly on whether an organization relies on cloud or on-premises environments. Some key differences:
- Can isolate infected instances without local access
- Cloud provider manages backup and restoration
- Easy scalability for temporary capacity
- Average recovery time of 1-4 weeks
- Physical access required for containment and recovery
- Organization responsible for backup systems and testing
- May need hardware replacements and reinstalls
- Average recovery time of 1-3 months
The automated backup capabilities and flexible resources of cloud platforms enable faster ransomware recovery. On-premises environments make containment and restoration much more difficult.
How Long Does a Typical Ransomware Attack Last?
Looking just at the initial ransomware attack itself, most happen quite quickly, within just minutes or hours. Once inside a system, the ransomware seeks out accessible files and encrypts them rapidly. The actual downtime from the ransomware scramble itself is short.
The extended outages businesses suffer stem from the time it takes to recoverafter the attack, not the attack itself. Ransomware attacks move swiftly, but undoing the damage they cause takes far longer.
Can Systems Be Restored While Ransomware Is Active?
Generally, no. Trying to restore systems while ransomware is still present and encrypting often just leads to continually reinfecting clean restored systems.
Before any recovery can begin, the ransomware needs to be completely removed and isolated. Otherwise, the malware will just keep infecting any recovered or replaced systems and files. Only after fully containing the attack can the recovery timeline start.
Attempting restoration too soon is one main factor that prolongs many ransomware recoveries. It leads to a very frustrating and ineffective process of restoring, reinfection, repeat.
Should a Business Pay the Ransom?
Most experts strongly advise against paying ransom demands. Paying the ransom:
- Does not guarantee files will be recovered
- Encourages more ransomware attacks
- Often incurs additional extortion demands
- May violate regulations in some sectors
There are very few situations where paying ransom provides any advantage over a well-executed restoration from backups. Businesses are better off investing in security protections than paying ransoms.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Ransomware?
Beyond just the initial recovery time, ransomware attacks can have lingering effects on organizations for months or years after. These include:
- Ongoing disruption as systems are stabilized
- Reduced productivity and morale
- Hesitancy to trust IT systems and data again
- Permanent data loss if backups were inadequate
- Loss of customers and damage to reputation
- Increased insurance premiums
Ransomware recovery does not end once systems are restored. Victim organizations often feel impacts long after, through both business operations and psyche. Proper planning for the long-haul effects is key.
How Can the Recovery Process Be Improved?
There are a number of best practices organizations should implement to improve the efficiency and speed of ransomware recovery:
- Have segmented backups for quick restoration of critical systems
- Maintain immutable/offline backups out of reach of malware
- Document the network environment and recovery procedures
- Regularly test backup restoration to validate effectiveness
- Use cloud infrastructure for scalability and reduced local access needs
- Maintain emergency response plan with defined roles and external contacts
Preparing networks and processes specifically with recovery in mind can dramatically reduce downtime and get organizations back up faster.
Should Employees Be Allowed to Work While Systems Are Down?
This depends on the nature of the work involved. Employees in the affected organization can aid recovery efforts with:
- Damage assessment and documenting impact
- Communicating status with leadership and customers
- Assisting with containment and remediation where able
However, allowing staff to conduct normal business operations on infected systems often seriously hinders recovery. Employee access enables ransomware to spread across restored files and systems.
The recovery team needs full control without interference to effectively restore systems. So employee usage should only be allowed where it benefits containment and remediation.
Can Data Be Recovered Without Paying the Ransom?
Absolutely, yes. The most reliable way to get data back after a ransomware attack without paying the ransom is through backups.
With properly executed backups that are isolated from the network, organizations can restore encrypted files without ever needing the ransomware decryption key.
Other options like hiring decryption firms or exploiting flaws in the malware are far less dependable. Secure and tested backups are by far the best way to deny ransomware extortion.
Should Law Enforcement Be Contacted?
Contacting law enforcement is generally very beneficial for ransomware victims. Law enforcement can:
- Provide guidance and best practices for response
- Help track ransom payments if the ransom is paid
- Alert other potential targets to the threat
- Potentially obtain a decryptor if one is available
- Identify vulnerabilities that led to the breach
At minimum, the FBI recommends contacting the local FBI field office cyber task force to report ransomware attacks. Law enforcement often has resources that can assist with recovery.
Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly prevalent, but the recovery process remains very involved. Depending on the scale of infection and resources available, ransomware recovery can take anywhere from two weeks to several months under typical circumstances.
The key considerations that dictate the length of ransomware recovery include:
- The specific ransomware variant
- The availability of clean backups
- The degree of network contamination
- The complexity of affected systems
- The recovery plan and resources
Preparation and planning is critical to minimize downtime. Having segmented backups, a well-documented environment, and an incident response plan enables much faster ransomware recovery.
While paying the ransom may seem quick, restoring from backups is safer, more reliable, and better for the long-term health of the business.