Although this digital age has brought much innovation and convenience to businesses, it has also ushered in new threats. Cyber crime, the majority of which can be attributed to phishing and other email-borne attacks, is a pressing concern that has plagued businesses for years, and it has become an even bigger threat now that malicious attackers are finding more complex methods to bypass security measures. Add to that the lack of digital safety employed by businesses and their staff, and it becomes clear why cyberattacks have increased significantly in recent years. Ransomware attacks grew by 485% in 2020, many of which exploited the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite industry demand for experts in the field to combat these major issues, cyber crime is escalating faster than the growth of qualified cybersecurity professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that cybersecurity jobs will now grow by 31% up to 2029 because of the cyber crisis brought on by the pandemic. To fill this particularly alarming gap, educational institutions have ramped up their online cybersecurity degrees that train individuals on the complex offensive and defensive tracks that make upimage1.jpg network security. Graduates are even equipped with business training, specifically to prepare them to work in organizations that have proven to be attractive targets for ransomware attacks. Though the educatio
n sector already recognizes this growing need, many businesses still don’t know how exactly ransomware works and why it is such a threat to their operations.

What is Ransomware? 

Ransomware is a type of malware (malicious software) that takes hold of files, encrypting them so that the original user cannot access them. The attacker then keeps the data hostage and demands a ransom in exchange for the restoration of files - usually in Bitcoin. Plenty of attackers provide instructions for payment, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Attackers tend to pick on organizations that have high value and poor security systems. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face a disproportionately large risk, as ransomware operators recognize that these companies often lack the IT resources and cybersecurity expertise required to prevent an attack. If the victim fails to pay up, the files are essentially rendered unusable for good. There are two common types of ransomware to be wary of – crypto and locker. The former actually targets files that handle the basic functions of your computer, meaning you won’t be able to operate your device when this type of attack happens. The latter is the more common variation, scrambling data in specific files so that you cannot access them.

Signs Your Business is Compromised

Once your system has been attacked, it will be quite evident as you will already be locked out of sensitive data and crucial functions in your operating systems. That being said, there are ways to see if your system is open to an attack and whether an employee may have possibly compromised the system by getting phished.

Phishing is one of the most common tactics used to deliver ransomware. Attackers send official-looking emails with links included, which prompt unsuspecting individuals to give private information and create an access point for the ransomware to take root into the device and its files. Some signs of a successful phishing attack are hackers using your credentials for identity theft, unfamiliar transactions showing up in your accounts and spam emails being sent from your account.

But according to the Forbes Technology Council, there are some early signs of an imminent major attack. This includes smaller, isolated attacks on different machines to test network defenses, behavior from Microsoft Process Explorer hinting at ransomware dump files, the sudden appearance of a network scanner that no one actively installed, finding security disablers in your apps (like GMER and PC Hunter) and constant suspicious activity flagged by your Information Technology team.

The Repercussions of Ransomware

As we’ve previously covered, ransomware makes businesses largely exploitable. Successful attacks result in data loss, intrusion on sensitive and private information (yours and your stakeholders') and financial predicaments (especially for smaller businesses).

Some important findings to consider regarding its dire effects are:

  • 60% of SMBs go out of business within six months of an attack.
  • Operations can be halted significantly, particularly because of the high volume of ransomware attacks that are occurring. Right before the pandemic, a ransomware attack occurred every 14 seconds.
  • When publicized, the aftermath of the attack includes lost partnerships and good will because of the stain it puts on a business’ reputation.
  • This reveals your company’s network weaknesses, opening you up to malicious attacks from competitors. A threat like this is more real than ever, as Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) sees sharp rises in demand within the dark web.
  • When emails are compromised (often the pathway for ransomware), major financial loss is a real threat. From 2016 to 2019, business email compromise scams caused $26 billion worth of worldwide business losses.

How to Prevent Attacks

Though it is possible to recover your files or at least prevent further loss by using backup storage and wiping systems clean, the more important objectives to think of are detection and prevention.

  • In the last two years, 67% of data loss and system outageshappened because of human error. So, make sure your employees have the right knowledge when it comes to basic cybersecurity measures – simple reminders such as not clicking unknown email links, scanning files before opening or running them, and making sure the firewall is on. A good way to conduct this training, monitor employees, and ensure safeguards are in place is to make sure you have a competent cybersecurity team within your operations.
  • Make sure there are backup files and secure cloud storage options for all sensitive and important data. Keep your trusted array of antivirus programs, sandboxes, and filters against intrusive ads and spam. Also, there should always be real-time analysis and safeguards when handling any external resources that will be used within company devices.
  • Make sure everything is up-to-date. To prevent new forms of malicious attacks and patch any vulnerabilities, keep your OS, relevant software apps, and antivirus protections updated.

Ransomware is a dangerous threat that can have a damaging impact on a business, but it’s not impossible to combat - or even recover from -  with a comprehensive, proactive email security and incident response strategy in place.

 

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