Ransomware Attack Response and Recovery Playbook

December 16, 20234 min read

Playbook Objectives

  • To enhance the incident response team’s skills in identifying, containing, and mitigating ransomware attacks.
  • To test the effectiveness of the organization’s current defenses and backup strategies against ransomware.
  • To improve inter-departmental communication and coordination during a cybersecurity crisis.
  • To formulate and refine recovery steps to restore critical services with minimal downtime in case of an actual ransomware attack.
  • To ensure compliance with relevant regulations and industry standards regarding cybersecurity.

Difficulty Level

  • Intermediate to Advanced. This exercise simulates a sophisticated ransomware attack requiring participants to have a good understanding of their network, familiarity with forensic tools, and the ability to execute a multistep response plan.


  • Acme Corp, a mid-sized financial services firm specializing in high-frequency trading, has recently faced attempts of security breaches indicating potential vulnerabilities within their IT infrastructure. The company’s CISO, Jane Doe, has scheduled a cyber range exercise to assess the team’s readiness against a targeted ransomware attack. Acme Corp’s network consists of a primary data center, several backup sites, and employees’ workstations spread out in an office building in downtown Metropolis.
  • The IT environment includes Windows servers hosting trading applications, Linux servers running databases, employee workstations, and BYOD smartphones connected through a secure VPN to the network. A small but dedicated IT team, led by a skilled but recently hired IT manager, John Smith, manages this complex framework. Their security measures involve firewalls, a SIEM system, and endpoint protection for the workstations.
  • The company needs this exercise to ensure that, in the event of an actual ransomware attack, they can quickly isolate the threat, minimize damage, recover encrypted data from backups, and resume business operations while maintaining client trust and adhering to financial regulatory requirements.
  • The exercise’s success lies in effectively identifying security gaps, applying the appropriate remedies, and learning from the simulation to bolster the company’s cybersecurity posture.


  • Incident Response & Business Continuity
Exercise Attack Steps
  • Preparation Phase:
    • The Red Team, simulating attackers, prepares a ransomware strain designed not to trigger Acme Corp’s current antivirus signatures.
    • A phishing campaign is launched towards Acme Corp employees with the objective of compromising at least one workstation.
  • Initial Breach:
    • An employee in the finance department is tricked into opening a malicious attachment from what appears to be a trusted vendor.
    • The ransomware payload is executed, encrypting files on the employee’s workstation and attempting to spread laterally.
  • Detection and Analysis:
    • The Blue Team (Acme Corp’s IT security team) detects unusual network activity through the SIEM system.
    • Forensic analysis is initiated to identify the type of ransomware and its encryption mechanisms.
  • Containment:
    • The affected devices are isolated from the network to prevent further spread of the ransomware.
    • All network traffic is monitored for signs of Command & Control (C&C) communication.
  • Eradication:
    • The ransomware’s source and any additional infections are removed from the network.
    • The affected systems are wiped clean and prepared for the recovery process.
  • Recovery:
    • Critical systems are prioritized and restored from secure, offline backups.
    • Integrity checks ensure that restored data is free from compromise.
  • Post-Exercise Analysis:
    • A detailed review meeting is held to discuss the effectiveness of the response.
    • Lessons learned are documented with suggested improvements to the incident response plan.
Throughout the exercise, the company will secure the network by applying real-time defenses based on the indicators of compromise found, adjust policies to reduce the potential for phishing success, and ensure that backup and recovery processes are robust enough to handle an actual attack. This proactive approach demonstrates the company’s commitment to cybersecurity and the protection of sensitive financial data.