SMB System Invasion: What is a Multi-Stage Malware?

In our recently expanded remote access work environment, cybercriminals have continued to find new attack methods. One of the most pernicious attack strategies hackers employ is Multi-Stage Malware attacks. Generally, Multi-Stage attacks are not “hit and run” events. Instead, they consist of several steps:

After the initial attack stages have been completed and as many machines as possible have been attacked, the malware is programmed to detonate. In the case of a multi-stage ransomware attack, instead of one computer being the launch vehicle, all the malware on every infected computer and other vulnerable endpoints can be detonated simultaneously. Once all the malware is detonated, users lose access to their infected devices until the ransom is paid. After that, the question remains whether the hacker will actually release the locked data and restore it. Unfortunately, large companies have paid substantial ransoms and have not been able to retrieve all their locked data, and most of the ransomware attackers are never found.

Unfortunately, some multi-stage attacks are used by cybercriminals to test a system’s vulnerabilities and refine their hacking modes of attack. In those instances, their short-term goal is to improve the efficacy of their cyber threats. Once hackers create a backdoor to a network, they may access it whenever they wish.

Case Study

A small, multi-office accounting firm in Brooklyn, New York, had an outstanding reputation with its clients. Because CPAs are charged with protecting private personal and financial data (by law), the company has always taken cyber security very seriously. The firm had an IT service consultant who would come by the office periodically to check the system and install updates where required. Unfortunately, after more than two decades without any cyber threats, everyone became lulled into a false sense of “security.”

However, the firm was growing and had hired many new employees. During that burst of growth, cyber security best practices within the company’s offices began to erode. In the haste to train new staff to become productive as soon as possible, new hires were not getting the proper training to keep the network secure.

Then, shortly before tax season, a staff bookkeeper clicked on an attachment in an email that she believed to be from one of the firm’s clients. After she clicked on it, her machine froze. She rebooted her CPU, and everything appeared to be okay. Unfortunately, the attachment contained malicious code that launched the first step in a lengthy and costly multi-stage attack. The malware continued to spread throughout the office and then to the firm’s other offices. Other than occasional “freezes,” nothing appeared to be compromised for the next three weeks.

One morning, the head bookkeeper in the main office booted up the system and tried to log in to the network, only to find the screen frozen, with a ransomware message demanding $25,000 to release the firm’s data that had now been encrypted system wide. The message also noted that the ransom would double every 24 hours, and after one week, the data would be permanently erased.

The head bookkeeper called the managing partner immediately to advise him of the attack. However, instead of calling the company’s usual IT expert, the firm called in an IT security service specializing in malware removal and protection. Even though the firm had good backups of its data, the decision was made that, going forward, it needed to ramp up its overall cyber threat protection significantly.

Fortunately, none of its clients’ data had been breached. However, the firm paid the ransom when it realized it had no choice. However, most SMBs could not afford to pay the ransom and could easily be put out of business by a multi-stage cyberattack.

DIGIGUARD Cyber Security specializes in cyber threat protection, including ransomware prevention, for small and midsized companies. In addition, DIGIGUARD can provide your small business with layers of security, making it more difficult for hackers to access your network. Therefore, your company’s data will be safer and less likely to be breached in the face of our expanding mobile work environment. But, of course, the best defense against a ransomware attack is never to have one. Toward that goal, solid prevention and monitoring, in tandem with swift mitigating responses to an attack, is essential as cyber criminality continues to escalate.

As you build your business, expand its network and add more devices such as smart controls, wireless access and remote access, your network vulnerability continues to increase with your growing cybercrime attack target landscape. DIGIGUARD uses state-of-the-art proactive ransomware defense tools and has a wide array of solutions for small and midsized businesses to guard against malware attacks and other network data breaches. In addition, they are cyber security experts who can ensure your confidential business and banking data has the best protection possible. In addition, they can help you defend against or recover from a ransomware attack and provide solutions that offer early detection of potential cyber threats before they happen. Furthermore, DIGIGUARD can assess your cyber vulnerability and work with you to ensure you have the best network and data protection solutions for your business.

Contact DIGIGUARD CYBER SECURITY at 833-33-CYBER (833-332-9237) or visit to explore prevention strategies available to guard against multi-stage ransomware attacks and other cyber defense protocols they can provide to protect your company’s hard-earned data.