The risk of ransomware: How to avoid becoming a victim

Since it made more frequent waves in the headlines in waves in 2017, ransomware – which allows hackers to commandeer a company’s data and hold it under password protection until a ransom is paid – has become one of the most feared and profitable weapons in a cybercriminal’s arsenal. More and more hackers are turning to ransomware because it delivers them the best bang for their buck. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are particularly vulnerable to this threat.

In fact, a recent ransomware report by Datto found that for SMBs, being hit by ransomware is no longer a question of if, but when. Surveying 150 Managed Service Providers (MSPs) serving nearly 1.1 million small to mid sized businesses (SMBs) across Europe, the research report revealed that 89 per cent of MSPs had clients who had recently been victims of ransomware. Twenty-two per cent even cited multiple attacks against clients in one single day – showing that attacks on smaller firms can come thick and fast, and no industry is safe.

Ransomware hackers are ruthless and greedy. They are targeting SMBs precisely because they know it’s not a fair fight. The cybercrime industry is well organised with well funded, professional organisations, which utilise widely distributed botnets to automatically seed out malware to unsuspecting users. What’s more, they only need a small percentage of businesses to take the bait in order to fund their growing operations. Many SMBs simply don’t have the IT budgets or expertise to stay one step ahead of these threats.

The cost of ransomware

When SMBs are hit with ransomware, less than 33 per cent report it to the authorities. However, this number is growing, and fewer (21 per cent) are now paying the ransom – typically priced at between £350 and £1,500. Unfortunately, however, 18 per cent of those that did pay the ransom never recovered their data. This number may seem relatively small but is still good income for the hackers: the Datto report found that between 2016 to 2017, the total amount of ransom paid to attackers was roughly £70 million.

The ransom itself, however, isn’t usually what breaks the bank for those companies that fall victim. More importantly, the spike in ransomware attacks has led to business-threatening downtime for the majority of affected SMBs, and consequently, to millions in downtime-related costs. In addition, nearly a third (62 per cent) reported loss of data and/or devices caused by ransomware attacks.

A gap in defences

Being hit by ransomware can be extremely damaging to any business. While most SMBs today understand the need for anti-virus software and firewalls, they might not realise that these defences aren’t watertight and offer little protection from ransomware. Yes, these tools are essential in the fight against cybercrime, but they often provide a window of opportunity which hackers can and do exploit – for example, the time after new malware has been released into the wild and before the IT security industry has had a chance to provide a patch against it.

Training staff in how to spot and deal with suspicious emails is another important line of defence. But, perhaps the most valuable step every company can take is backing up its data, as this allows organisations to recover their stolen data when all the other security measures fail.

The importance of backups

SMBs will be familiar with the need to back up their data regularly and to be prepared for unexpected system outages. These backups can also protect against damage caused by ransomware. A firm that can successfully restore its files to their state before the network was hijacked by cyber attackers can be up and running again very quickly, with no ransom to pay and with minimal downtime.

To help with this, Datto and other backup providers are now starting to integrate additional anti-ransomware features. These act as an early warning system, and in some cases, even allow attack prevention. Datto recently unveiled Advanced Backup Verification - a new set of checks that ensures each new backup is free of ransomware and will result in a successful recovery - and Rapid Rollback - a restoration tool to quickly restore a system hit with ransomware to a previous, unaffected version, allowing the business to carry on ransomware-free.

Ransomware is big business. According to the Datto report, 99 per cent of MSPs predict that the frequency of attacks on SMBs will continue to increase over the next two years. Hackers are becoming ever more sophisticated, so it is critical that SMBs deploy a multi-layered approach to security. For those overwhelmed by the many technology options available, hiring a Managed Service Provider is often a worthwhile investment.

Organisations that deploy a combination of strong security measures and complement this with educating their employees will have the best chances when it comes to avoiding future ransomware threats.

 

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