One of the most discussed viruses is that of the dreaded ransomware, which, in recent years, has built a formidable reputation after being employed to breach the systems belonging to some of the largest corporations and organizations in the world.
If you aren’t so familiar, however, and are seeking more info on this particular form of malware, such as how it can affect all kinds of users and websites, including SMBs, and also how to prevent an attack, we’re about to dive right in….
What is Ransomware?
Malware – malicious software – can be used by online fraudsters to carry out all kinds of criminal activities, some of which can disrupt, or even devastate, the lives of its unfortunate victims.
The ransomware variety is developed to encrypt a device’s data, meaning that the user will no longer have access to it; a financial ransom will then have to be paid to the hacker in order for data access to be restored (basically, files are locked and the key is price-tagged!).
With our everyday lives now tethered to and reliant on endless streams of data – stored on computers, smartphones and network servers – ransomware is quite rightly considered as one of the most formidable cyber threats in existence.
How Does it Attack?
The key to understanding how ransomware spreads and infects devices so fast is by recognizing how crafty and deceptive it is. While ransomware may be all teeth and claws, hackers will typically disguise this weaponized software as unassuming, innocuous files.
By employing wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing tactics, orchestrators stand a far greater chance of misleading their targets. One of the most effective ways to spread malware is through scam ‘Phishing’ emails, whereby the malware is placed within attachments.
Scammers will often try to create a sense of urgency, too – another very effective tactic for eliciting an actionable response. But what does a typical Phishing email, containing ransomware, look like?
Without getting into too much detail, a scam email usually contains an unusual sender address, a vague/generic subject line, body (‘Dear Sir’ instead of ‘Dear [Surname]’) and attachment, along with spelling/grammar mistakes, and links to harmful websites.
For instance, you may receive an email claiming to be from your bank, an online retailer, or colleague, stating that you need to download a seemingly harmless file (like a form or report); usually, ‘ticking time bomb’ language will feature, prompting action.
If the attachment is downloaded, the user’s world could be drastically impacted, disrupting their personal/family life (if it was downloaded on a home computer), their work life (in the office), or even both, since ransomware can replicate itself across multiple devices.
Outbreaks occur when ransomware manages to spread as far as possible; it is specifically designed to re-send the scam to all of the infected user’s email contacts, or to grow by exploiting existing home/work network connections that enable centralized file access.
Does Ransomware Target SMBs?
Yes, it absolutely can, and has been for years; while it may be comforting to believe that ransomware only targets big-time corporations, the hard truth is that hackers target SMBs every day.
While the ill-gained rewards stolen from SMBs may be smaller than that of larger companies, the fact that many managers fail to implement sufficient cyber security measures, along with in-office awareness, is reason enough for hackers to go after smaller fish.
So then, it really goes without saying that all SMB owners and senior staff members should discuss viable cyber security strategies. It only takes one misstep to allow ransomware in, after all, such as a staff member accidentally downloading a malicious attachment.
To better gauge the consequences of an attack, try to imagine how you would cope if such an incident were to lead to major workplace disruption, with your everyday operations being severely impacted.
If your data, such as customer details and invoices, etc, were to become encrypted – and therefore unusable – how would you react? Would you pay the ransom (without guarantee of restored file access)? Or would you pay an IT firm to try and clean your system?
You also have to factor in whether you could recover – both in financial and reputational terms – bearing in mind that customer trust and loyalty can make or break a company. Having a cyber security plan in place can’t make your business 100% hack-proof – but it can certainly improve your chances of avoiding danger.
How Can SMBs Prevent an Attack?
There are numerous steps that you can take to protect your business and its data from the threat of ransomware. Here are several of the most important, and feasible, elements to focus on:
- Regular Backups. It makes perfect sense to have an up to date backup of your data – that way, should ransomware strike, the disruption faced will be significantly reduced. Ensure that the backup location isn’t connected to your main devices or work network, however; instead, store data on an external disk, server, or the cloud.
- Sensitive Data Protection. Consider password protecting (encrypting) any sensitive data for both your original and backed up versions; this won’t help to prevent a cyber attack, but it will make it harder for thieves to read any stolen files.
- Install Antivirus. Running a modern-age business without the protection of an antivirus suite is one of the riskiest, most ill-advised things you can do. An antivirus package from a reputable provider can perform regular scans of your company’s devices, and also scan files before they are opened – which is very important. You may also want to consider installing a security plugin for your website.
- Email/Download Caution. When it comes to emails – especially the unsolicited or unusual kind – a dollop of healthy cynicism often goes a long way. Sneaky phishing emails will try to dupe you into downloading dangerous attachments, or provide links to malicious websites. If in doubt, hold your horses while you ask a colleague for a second opinion.
- Regular Updates. Developers of software, such as operating systems, apps, plugins and themes, etc, do so to provide their users with the most secure and functional versions available. By neglecting updates, your company’s figurative armour will be carrying potentially exploitable flaws.
- Strong Passwords. Always, always, always try to use strong (multi-charactered, unique) passwords that are different for all accounts – this goes for you and your staff. While no account can ever be truly 100% unhackable, a strong password will always be your best defense.
- Cyber Security Awareness. Getting your team on board with issues surrounding cyber security can help to make them more alert to not just ransomware, but also how to identify and avoid other threats. Why not hold a cyber security meeting or book an expert to host a live presentation?
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