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Protecting Your Business against Ransomware, Part I

Ransomware is an access-denial attack that infects computer systems via Trojan horse email.

Do not have time to read? You can listen to this article below.

Ransomware defined

Ransomware is an access-denial attack that infects computer systems via Trojan horse email attachments, compromised/hacked websites or website ads. Once downloaded, this malware encrypts a system’s files, making them completely unusable until the victim pays a ransom to decrypt and re-access their data.

You know you’ve been hit when your computer screen freezes with a pop-up message saying your personal files have been encrypted–and that you must pay to get the key needed decrypt them. Often, the perpetrator claims to be a federal agency informing you that your computer will remain locked down until you pay a fine to compensate for violating some bogus federal law.

The great threat

In a recent WSJ article, Chris Stangl, an FBI’s Cyber Division section chief, described ransomware as a “prevalent, increasing threat…costing victims $24M + in 2015.” I believe this is a low estimate because much ransomware crime goes unreported by businesses afraid of the potential negative publicity

In fact, ransomware has successfully targeted a wide range of organizations, including businesses, financial institutions, government agencies–even police departments and hospitals, wreaking complete havoc. The potential damage includes loss of critical proprietary information and shutting down operations.

Basic protection

First-level ransomware protection encompasses many of the same fundamental system security strategies described in previous Insights post.

  • First and foremost–regularly back up your data to either an external device or a safe offline location, one not linked to your network. You can experience a complete system meltdown for many reasons.– I recently spoke with a customer whose website was hacked several years ago. Most of his information was lost because he had no backup. Failure to backup your data is like playing Russian roulette.
  • Automate regular updates to your antivirus software, operating system, and web browsers.
  • Regularly update the software on all your devices. Use the same protections on your mobile devices as you would on your computer when using the Internet.
  • Create strong passwords, as described in a previous post.
  • Never open unsolicited e-mail attachments or attachments from people you DON’T know.
  • Never open suspicious looking emails, even from people you DO KNOW. If their subject line seems ‘off,’ , their account may have been hacked.
  • Never click on a URL embedded in an unsolicited e-mail, even if it looks OK. If it seems important, close the email and access the organization’s website directly.
  • Only visit websites that have a good reputation. 
  • Only download software—especially free software—from sites you know and trust.
    Not directly related to ransomware–be careful before initiating manual downloads even of trusted software. It’s easy to click on and accidentally download invasive software (e.g., for tool bars, etc.).

In Part II of this article, I’ll explore some recommended ransomware prevention strategies for mid to large-size organizations.

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