Understanding Ransomware as part of the Cyber Threat Landscape

For companies that rely on data to function, ransomware attacks are among the most devastating–especially if the company doesn’t have a solid backup system in place that will enable them to restore as much of that data as possible. Being ready for a ransomware attack is a critical part of your disaster plan. From defending against ransomware to designing a plan for how to respond if it strikes your business, you must be familiar with this type of cyber attack to protect your business.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a virus that takes over your data and holds it “hostage.” Every piece of data in your system is corrupted and encoded. In order to regain access to your data, you must pay the ransom demanded by the creator of the program–and in some cases, this might not be enough! Some hackers will create the program without offering a corresponding key to the code–and as a result, you may remain unable to decrypt your data.

Nothing attached to the affected system is safe. If your machine is isolated, the virus may stop there. If it’s on a network, however ransomware can spread through every computer on the system, decimate your cloud storage, and leave you unable to get access to data on any of your machines. Some forms of ransomware are targeted specifically at your files; others attack the master boot record and effectively block access to your entire system, making it literally impossible for you to do anything. When it comes to ransomware, nothing is safe. Isolating an affected machine immediately is the only way to prevent its spread–and unfortunately, even the most experienced IT team might not be fast enough.

Rising Challenges

Many business assumed, to their detriment, that they were safe from ransomware. Since its start in 2005, however, ransomware has continued to grow. Today’s ransomware is highly advanced. It’s designed to target systems where they are the most vulnerable, including preventing them from being restored from backups and locking down mobile devices as well as more traditional machines. The impact of ransomware attacks is becoming increasing devastating–like, for example, this police department that lost eight years of evidence after failing to pay the $4,000 ransom demanded to unlock their system. In some cases, ransomware attacks also allow their creators to gain control of a facility, like this simulated attack on a water treatment plant by the Georgia Institute of Technology. In this case, the system assumes that the individual with master access to the system, as is attained by the ransomware program as it systematically locks out access, also has permission to make changes–and many hackers can do so to devastating effect.

Preparing for the Attack

No industry is safe from the possibility of a ransomware attack. It’s critical that you protect your business and be ready for the possibility that you’ll be the next to be targeted so that if the day does come, you’ll take as little damage as possible. This includes:

  • Having a disaster recovery plan in place that will let every employee in the company know how they are expected to respond in the event of a ransomware attack
  • Designing protocols that will allow you to manually shut off or regain access to systems that could potentially be controlled through a ransomware attack
  • Maintaining off-site or hard copy backups so that if your data is encrypted, you still have a way to use old copies of it
  • Installing multiple layers of security protection to help decrease the likelihood that a ransomware attack will happen to you
  • Training employees in proper security procedures so that they will be less likely to invite ransomware into your system

Ransomware is a devastating attack. It’s critical, as you’re preparing your disaster plan and your security efforts, that you be ready for the possibility that ransomware will strike your business. If you need help increasing your business security or designing a disaster recovery plan, contact us today to learn how we can make that process easier for your business.

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