Targeting business with ransomware may have witnessed a slight decline in recent months. However, both large and small companies are still at risk from the nefarious practice of extorting money through digital means.
Unfortunately, the reason ransomware is so prevalent is due to one simple fact, it gets results.
Your best defense against ransomware is to understand how it works, and from there, you will be in a better position to know what safeguards to implement to help keep your business and livelihood safe from attack.
Read the rest of this article to learn what ransomware is, and how you can protect yourself against an attack.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware. Critical files on your computer system are encrypted, and the only way to regain access is to pay a ransom to an anonymous entity. Once payment is received, the criminals then forward an encryption key you can use to recover your computer system.
Ransom fees can vary significantly from a few hundred, up to many thousands of dollars. The most common choice for a payment method is through the cryptocurrency Bitcoin due to the anonymity the digital currency provides.
How Ransomware Gains Access to Your Computer System
Ransomware attackers can use a variety of email scams to trick people into giving them access to a computer system. Emails masquerading as legitimate communications from law enforcement, the IRA, or even delivery services trick people into opening a malicious file attached to the message.
Once the attachment has been opened and run, the malicious software can then take over the victim’s computer and encrypt the files.
Other types of ransomware attacks are more sophisticated and exploit known security holes in the software or operating system to gain access. Users don’t need to be duped into opening a file because the criminals gain access to the system directly.
What Does Ransomware Do?
The most common ransomware strategy is to lock users out of the computer system by encrypting its files. Only some of the files may be encrypted, but users are often locked out of the entire system.
Whichever strategy the criminals use, the important thing is that a mathematical key known only to the attacker is required to decrypt the files.
Once the computer is infected, the ransomware will then display a message stating that the system is now inaccessible, and access will be restored once the ransom has been paid with untraceable Bitcoin.
How to Protect Your Business from Ransomware
The best way to protect yourself from ransomware is not to leave yourself or your computer system vulnerable to attack. Use these strategies to ensure you never become a victim.
Use Strong Password Policies
Passwords are a weak point for many companies. If you are using the same passwords for different accounts, you are leaving yourself open to attack.
It’s challenging to come up with easy-to-remember passwords without repeating them when you have so many, but a password manager may be a solution.
A password manager stores your password in an encrypted file which you access through an encryption key. You can make each password as long and as complicated as you like, and the password manager will automatically track which ones go where.
You will also be able to store PINS, three-digit CVV codes, and credit card numbers with a password manager. Secure encryption means that ransomware attackers will have a hard time gaining access to your system through a leaked password.
Antivirus and Firewall Applications
An antivirus and firewall suite that continually scans your system for intrusion and malware is your first line of defense against ransomware. Firewalls are excellent for blocking unwanted visitors to your network who are probing your system for security holes.
Firewalls can be sophisticated hardware or software solutions, or both, but are also available as software only installations, depending on your needs.
There are many different antivirus solutions available, and many are free. However, paid solutions are more comprehensive and are frequently updated to protect against the latest strategies.
Keep Your Software Updated
Operating system creators are always updating their software to block the latest security breaches. Ensure you implement an updated policy to keep all your software at the latest and most secure versions.
Educate Yourself and Your Employees
The best way to prevent a successful phishing attack is to ensure you and your employees are well-versed in that latest scams.
Many phishing attacks are blatantly obvious, with poor language, grammatical errors, and bad formatting.
However, there are always a few that will be very difficult to distinguish from the real thing if you are not careful.
Ask questions of the email to determine if it’s the real thing, such as:
- Does it make sense that I am receiving this email?
- Do I know who sent me this email?
- Can I check that the attached file is safe?
- Am I being threatened in some way?
- Is there anything that seems off?
Always check that outbound links are going to where they say they are going by hovering your mouse over the link. A hyperlink can lie about its destination, but the popup will reveal its trust location. You can also check that the email ‘from’ address is legitimate.
Use Strong Spam Filters
You can minimize the number of phishing attacks by implementing strong spam filters on your email client. Doing this will stop the emails from reaching your employees and triggering a possible security breach.
Configure Access Controls
Configure who can access your files, directories, and network shares using as few privileges as possible. For example, if an employee needs to read specific files, they will not need to write and modify privileges for those files.
Ransomware costs businesses many millions of dollars every year. While the practice is not as prevalent now as it was, your company is still at risk.
Knowing the strategies the criminals use and understanding how to combat them will go a long way to ensuring your organization will never become a ransomware victim.
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