You know it, you fear it and you may even have experienced it: The particularly vicious kind of malware that we know as ransomware. All kinds of cyber threats pose a problem for any business with a vested interest in their internet presence or the smart devices they use to connect to company networks. You may have witnessed a cyberattack, or attempt to do so, at your own place of work. Anywhere that connects online is a potential target for a hacker.
With digital capabilities come risk, like newfound opportunities for theft. The company bank account is likely more padded than that of the average Joe. That’s what makes any size business a potential target for ransomware.
What is Ransomware?
Malicious software can wreak all sorts of havoc on your computer system. Ransomware encrypts files and information, then sends an alert to notify the user that their computer has been hacked. To get back your files, you’ll need a special key that only they have. In exchange for thousands of dollars, these threat actors will release this private decryption key to get back those files which would otherwise be unrecoverable.
This is one major factor in why cybersecurity experts recommend regularly backing up all of your files. That way if something does happen, critical work isn’t lost forever – and you don’t have to pay the thief.
And yes, people really pay the fee. Sometimes it’s simply to recover their files, but cybercriminals may also demand a second ransom to stop them from leaking the files online (this is called double encryption). Just because you have access to them again doesn’t mean that that information hasn’t been compromised already, which is also why it’s so important to update your security and change your credentials after a potential breach.
Ransomware in 2022
Ransomware is one of the most prevalent threats to businesses this year, and has been a rising issue for awhile. The use of the Dark Web and increasing digitization of society have given cybercriminals new opportunities for theft. For example, ransomware kits (also known as ransomware-as-a-service) are just what they sound like: Bundled code that can be bought and executed against a victim, some complex and worth thousands but others as cheap as $10.
Other facts about the dangers of ransomware that you should keep in mind:
- On average, ransomware payments amount to $570K
- Average payments experienced an over 80% increase in 2021
- Ransomware is fast; it executes at a median of under half an hour
- Double extortion is when the threat actor demands payment for the return of your files AND to stop further distribution, and was responsible for nearly 1000% more data leakage in 2021
- Even payment is no guarantee – 35% who pay the ransom never recover their data regardless
- The US Treasury credits ransomware with $5.2B bitcoin transactions, which shows how entwined cryptocurrency is with the latest cyber threats
Given how difficult some of the more advanced ransomware can be to combat, taking proper precautions and keeping an updated security posture will preemptively strengthen the protection of the business.
Defending Against Ransomware
How can you reduce your risk of falling victim and paying huge sums of money to recover files and recuperate from the attack?
- Regularly change your password into hard-to-guess alphanumerical combinations that you don’t use for any other site
- Keep work files within your company’s VPN or secure server
- Lock your workstation when you’re away
- Restrict access to secure files by establishing different clearance levels throughout the organization
- Invest in strong firewalls and RDP
- Automate processes to scan for abnormalities on the network
- Test for and patch vulnerabilities to prevent zero-day exploits
- Regularly back up data, and check that storage to ensure the files are actually recoverable
Ransomware has big consequences if it finds its way onto your system, and you don’t have a back up plan or up-to-date defenses on your side. Staying apprised of what tactics cybercriminals are using, the stakes at risk, and what you can do to stay safe will protect the company as technology advances and ransomware attacks evolve.
Ransomware seems set to stay on track as a growing threat to businesses just like yours. New versions continue to devastate software, compromise information, and steal and sell data. In 2021, a new company was affected by ransomware every eleven seconds, down from fourteen in 2019. Now is the time to stop that trend from continuing, by equipping ourselves with the knowledge needed to stay cyber-safe on a day to day basis.