If there is anything you can learn from previous attacks is that no organization is safe. They have managed to infiltrate organizations with incredible security systems. Luckily with good cyber hygiene and other preventative measures, you can mitigate your ransomware vulnerabilities. Here is what you must know about ransomware, including three things you can do to prevent network attacks.
What Is A Ransomware Attack?
It’s a type of malware that compromises your system and holds your data hostage until you pay a ransom. The most advanced attacks will only take seconds to damage your infrastructure and system. It can happen when you visit an infected website or through phishing emails. These attacks keep on growing in sophistication and are capable of causing severe damages to your organization. They generate billions of dollars as ransom to cybercriminals. The last thing you want is to be a victim of malicious attacks. There are so many variations of network attacks; you need to always keep your system up to date.
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks
#1 Backup Your Data
The best way to ensure you are not locked out from accessing critical files is to have backup copies. You should consider cloud storage or an external hard drive. That way, if your networks are attacked, you can wipe your system clean and reinstall data from the backup files. However, you must understand that backups won’t prevent ransomware, but they will help you minimize the damages. You will be less tempted to pay the malware authors ransom if all the files are backed up.
Back up as often as possible and, if possible, have multiple copies. Virtual backups are great, but you risk losing everything if you don’t have an offline backup system. You should secure the backups; keep the files out of bounds and away from any possible attacks. Ransomware looks for backed up data and deletes or encrypts the files. Your backup location should not be accessible for deletion or modification. Routinely test your backups for efficiency and if by bad luck you are attacked, ensure the backup files are not infected before you reinstall them.
#2 Educate Your Users
Ransomware prevention is not a one man show; every user in your company has to be proactive. They are the ones that use the system more than you. You must ensure they are aware of the potential risks and how to prevent them. Train your staff on what to look for before clicking download or opening an email. Email attachments are the most common way of launching a network attack. It only takes one employee lowering their guard for your company to be compromised. Think about adopting a spam filter that prevents malicious emails from reaching your employee’s desktops.
Consider an IT consulting firm or hiring a team of experts to help you create staff awareness. Employees should avoid using unknown USB sticks while operating work computers. They must also stay away from malicious links from unknown websites. Everyone should assume all the incoming files and media are potential threats until proven otherwise. Your employees are the heart of your cybersecurity strategy. More than 80% of data breaches involve human interactions. That is why you cannot ignore staff training.
#3 Keep Your System Up To Date
You shouldn’t ignore software updates; when you get the security patches, ensure you install them. Usually, cybercriminals look at vulnerabilities that have been fixed in major software vendor updates. They know most companies will not install the updates for months. That gives them a chance to exploit the vulnerabilities in your system that you could quickly fix by updating your software. Usually, these updates pop up when you are busy, which is why most people push them aside. But you can afford to miss any security updates with ransomware threats all over the industry.
Promptly patch your software as you keep evaluating traffic. Implement strict policies at the application level of your system. This will limit the number of people accessing your networks. You should also try to harden your endpoints with secure configuration settings. If you can’t afford an in-house IT security team, align yourself with a reliable IT firm . They will stay on top of network security and ensure your systems are constantly updated. Where possible, turn on the automatic updates. Despite all the measures and updates, you should be prepared for the worst case scenario. Have a plan on what to do in case of a ransomware event.
Responding To a Ransomware Attack
When you suspect a ransomware attack has hit you, you must act quickly. Your business or company needs a step by step guide on what to do in such a scenario. That means you need to have a team ready to take over and restore your operating system. An effective response plan will make all the difference. It determines whether you will have a contained incident or a company-wide infection.
- Isolate infected systems or devices. Isolation is the top priority in an attack because it helps contain the infection. If one device or system is infected, it will be a moderate inconvenience for your business. But if all the systems are compromised, it graduates to a full blown catastrophe that can put your organization out of business for good. Disconnect the infected device from the internet and other systems as quickly as possible. However, the device with ransomware may not necessarily be patient zero. You must look for all other devices that are behaving suspiciously. Ransomware moves very fast, so you have to be faster.
- Identify patient zero. It’s crucial to determine how the malware authors gained access to your network. Most attacks enter your network using malicious email attachments and links that need end-user action. Be sure to ask your employees about their recent activities. Look for any possible antimalware or antivirus alerts that may have popped up on your system. It’s possible to have more than one patient zero. The malware may have infected several devices at the same time. After you find the entry point, try to assess the damages. List down the affected systems and devices. If your business has a managed IT services provider, they can help you determine the type of ransomware you are dealing with.
- Evaluate backups. You can begin the response process by evaluating the backups. Advanced ransomware strains specifically target company’s backups and try to delete, override, or encrypt them. Ensure the infection did not reach your backed up files and try to restore your system. Before you use the backups, all the devices and systems should be wiped free of ransomware. Once there are no traces of malware, you can restore data to all the processes and apps and get your business up and running again. Consider reporting the attack to authorities after you contain the ransomware. For one, such attacks are against the law, and the authorities have tools that are not mostly available to small and mid-sized businesses. They can help you track the criminals or find encrypted or stolen data.
- Determine if you need to pay the ransom. If you find yourself without backup, you may be forced to pay the attackers what they ask. But before you do, find out if there are any decryption options. You may be fortunate enough to find a decryptor to unlock your data. Paying the decryptor is less costly, and you can avoid serious downtime. If you have exhausted all your options and nothing is working, it’s time to consider paying the ransom. You should only pay the attackers if the loss of data will likely put you out of business. But if it’s not threatening your business, cut your losses, move on and start from scratch. Remember, you are dealing with criminals; you may pay them and never receive your decryption or get repeated ransom demands. So if it’s possible, forget about the data and start afresh. FBI and the authorities discourage paying the ransom.
How Big A Threat Is Ransomware?
Ransomware leads to permanent or temporary loss of sensitive information. Your data may fall into the wrong hands and possibly make clients lose trust in your services. Company data is crucial. It is the anchor for all operations and even business decisions. It’s the reference point for past activities that influence growth. That is why attackers demand a lot of money; they understand the importance of such information. Permanent or temporary loss of data can be devastating.
Such attacks can cause the shutdown of the company’s operations. At the very least, ransomware will cause a few hours of downtime. But it can also shut down operations for good. If you cannot restore the data and your company depends on it, you may lose everything. But if it’s minor disruption to your regular operations, you will recover. Backing up data will prevent closing your business for good.
There is also potential harm to your company’s reputation. The attack will leave a big stain on the reputation you have spent years building. It’s going to be very difficult to convince new clients to trust you with sensitive information. It might take you years again to get to where you were before the attack. If you want to restore trust and reputation faster, implement new security protocols and inform your clients about them. They must know that you are taking every possible measure to prevent any similar attacks.
There are so many financial losses associated with ransomware remediation efforts. The inevitable downtime will cost your company a lot of money. You may also need to pay an IT specialist to help decrypt the data. Paying the ransom is also a financial loss, and it’s not even a guarantee that you will get your data back. It may turn into a vicious cycle where the attackers keep asking for more. Financial losses have to be the most devastating effects of ransomware for most organizations.
Some things make your company a target for a ransomware attack. Having outdated software is the main reason businesses fall victim to such attacks. Ensure all the software used in your company stay up to date. Using state of the art or modern devices might also improve your security features. When you are updating your system, consider buying new and improved equipment and devices for the office.
Having remote workers can also be a vulnerability. If the workers must work remotely, ensure they are aware of cybersecurity threats and how they can prevent them. When everyone is playing their part, the attackers won’t be able to reach you. If it’s possible, separate the remote worker’s network from the main network. That way, they get attacked; you won’t lose all your data. Everyone should take data backup seriously, even on devices that are not on site. If there are any security changes at the company, be sure to inform your remote workers.
Small and mid-sized companies account for half or more of network attacks. That is because they lack sufficient cybersecurity measures. Attackers prefer organizations that lack security infrastructure. You shouldn’t make it easy for them to access your data. When you don’t know where to start, consult an IT specialist and see what more you can do. Some security updates will cost you money, but it’s worth it if they keep cybercriminals away.
A ransomware attack is no joke. Your company has to be prepared at all times to avoid dealing with the aftermath of such an attack. These criminals have managed to get through some of the very advanced cybersecurity. You can’t afford to leave anything to chance; take the mitigation measures very seriously. There is always something more you and your business can be doing to prevent attacks.
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