The technology world is, for the most part, a terrific value-add to our lives, however, there are some offshoots of the digital universe that are downright noxious. One of the most repellent is ransomware, which can be defined as “malware that locks your keyboard or computer to prevent you from accessing your data until you pay a ransom, usually demanded in Bitcoin.” Because it’s almost impossible to trace, the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has actually helped enable the ransomware industry by eliminating the risk involved with actually collecting the ransom.
One of the most notorious ransomware events was the May, 2017, “WannaCry” malware attack, which affected computers throughout the world, including Spanish Telecom and selected hospitals in the British National Health System. So vile are the perpetrators that they shut down doctors’ access to patient records, putting lives at risk, while carrying out their scheme unrepentantly. In the end, some experts say the damages totaled more than $1 billion!
However, while large scale attacks like WannaCry have been the focus of media attention, small businesses are by no means immune from the extortionists’ sting. In fact, according to the Second Annual State of Ransomware Report released earlier this year, 22% of small businesses hit with ransomware attacks were crippled to the point that they had to cease operations immediately. These companies lost over $100,000 on average due to downtime and, according to a report from Osterman Research, for one in six organizations these attacks caused 25 hours or more of downtime.
In addition, these types of ransomware attacks, despite their smaller scale, are generally more frequent and much more dangerous for the victim. This, very generally, is because larger corporations are better suited than small and medium sized businesses to handle the aftermath of a breach given the resources and talent at their disposal. In fact the National Cyber Security Alliance found that more than 70% of attacks target small to medium sized businesses resulting in 60% of those hacked closing their doors in the following six months.
Conclusion: How to Prevent Attacks
The most regrettable part of the ransomware issue is that virtually all of the major malware attacks could have been prevented. When Microsoft or another vendor sends out a patch, install it immediately. Many ransomware attacks were made possible because someone did not take this simple precaution. This is all too common, and 100-percent unnecessary.
With that in mind, here’s a shortlist of preventative measures you can use to safeguard your data:
- Back your data up. If your files are backed up, you can copy them back to your computer and bypass the ransomed files
- Make sure your security software and operating system are up-to-date. Don’t assume that hackers get easily discouraged. They are working hard to perfect their craft, and neglecting those updates is making their jobs a lot easier.
- Do not open any email attachments unless you are sure of the sender. This goes double for links that pretend to come from major companies. If you have any doubts, call the companies and request verification that the email is legit.
- TRAIN YOUR EMPLOYEES to know the do’s and don’ts of computer management.
- Don’t pay the ransom. You are probably not going to get your data back anyway. Just use the backup you so wisely created.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start toward helping to keep your organization #CyberSecure!