Understanding the Ransomware Threat and Preventions 

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack that can debilitate a business. By stopping a company’s access to its website or digital files, ransomware hackers can hold a company hostage until their demands are met.

What Exactly is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack where hackers infiltrate a company’s network with the intention of controlling access and information. The “ransom” part comes through extortion, where the hackers will encrypt company data and demand payment before providing the encryption key. The hacking group will likely give a company a short amount of time to respond, so they have limited options to unencrypt the data or find alternative options.

What happens if their demands are not met? They’ll threaten to make the data unreadable and unusable by leaving it encrypted. Or, they will sell the information to another hacking group to commit fraud or identity theft. If the hackers only captured a portion of a company’s digital assets and their ransom demands are not met, they might then dive deeper and collect more assets to put the company in a worse situation and drive them towards payment. In some instances, the hackers target the company again after ransom is paid, because they now see it as an “easy target” that can provide them with money every year or six months.

Who are the Common Ransomware Victims?

While larger firms have deeper pockets and could be attractive for larger ransom payments, these firms typically have stronger cybersecurity protections. Ransomware hackers often target small and medium-sized businesses for attacks because they have less defense, and often do not have on-site IT specialists. These firms lack monitoring software that can spot the early stages of an attack and enable a company to partition its data and access and limit the damage. And while smaller firms have less capital than big companies, they also are less able to afford lengthy business interruptions. Ransomware might force their hand, and make them choose between paying a ransom and folding their company.

Hackers use multiple strategies for ransomware attacks. They might rely on phishing schemes, where they present fraudulent emails to users in an attempt to get them to share login credentials. For example, they might send out fake emails from a well-known cybersecurity company as a way to get someone to share their passwords or other exploitable data. There are also malware programs that get into companies without needing to dupe an insider. Some of these come from state-sponsored government programs, while many others are deployed by overseas hacking groups. In either situation, the goal for hackers is to control access and data, and put pressure on the company’s owners.

How Can Companies Protect Themselves From Ransomware?

Ransomware hackers rely on easy prey, so the more roadblocks a company can put up, the more likely it is the hackers will simply move on to the next victim. Here are some core ransomware prevention strategies:

  • Train employees about cybersecurity risks. Talk to them about using unsecured Wi-Fi while out of the office, avoiding phishing schemes, and using stronger password techniques like two-factor authentication. People are often a network’s weakest links, and training can serve as a first layer of defense.
  • Improve data and site backup policies so a ransomware event does not result in payment, but instead becomes a minor inconvenience. Firms should backup data to multiple cloud services to add additional layers of redundancy and protection.
  • Put in place IT monitoring to spot suspicious activities for ransomware prevention. In some high-profile cases, hackers have breached an organization for months or years before eventually turning to ransom. Monitoring can help companies see abnormal data requests and other actions.
  • Limit employees’ ability to download new software tools or use “shadow IT” which is unapproved tools, such as using WhatsApp for communication with colleagues, instead of the approved methods. These sorts of actions increase a company’s exposure to exploits.
  • Restrict administrative rights to various programs to only IT management or managed IT services partners.

It’s impossible for a firm to completely eliminate the risks of hacking and ransomware. However, with a multi-pronged approach of training and the right technology tools, firms can make their networks unattractive targets. They can also create recovery plans that can allow them to not pay ransoms, and instead get back to work as quickly as possible.

Featured Photo by Saksham Choudhary