Over the past year, cyber security experts and analysts have been warning businesses and individuals about the growing threat of ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system and data until a sum of money is paid (usually in bitcoin). On Friday May 12, all the doomsday predictions of crippling global cyber fraud became a rather frightening reality, as ransomware dubbed ‘WannaCry’ infected 114 000 Windows machines in just 24 hours. The attack quickly spread to over 150 countries, affecting hospitals, interior ministries and major corporations – with hackers demanding US$300 in bitcoin per machine, to unlock encrypted data.
As the global fallout from what has been called the worst ransomware attack in history continues, it provides a stark wake up call for businesses of all sizes to begin to take this threat very seriously….
1. Acknowledge that you are a target
Arguably, SMEs are currently the most vulnerable to ransomware attacks. This is simply because many businesses believe that they are unlikely targets. Indeed, there is a mistaken belief that banks and major multinationals are primarily the ones who have to worry about vicious cyber fraud. This is a dangerous outlook! Cyber criminality, and ransomware in particular, is about volume – it’s a numbers game. Attacks are conducted at random, on mass, and these criminals do not discriminate between size, sector, individuals, business, etc.
Worryingly, most local SMEs are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to ransomware – and are consequently placing themselves at massive risk. They are just as vulnerable, if not more so, than the bigger corporations and organisations that have very publicly come under attack.
2. Partner with a business Internet provider
On a very practical level, one of the factors currently leaving many SMEs at risk is their choice of Internet providers. All too often, small businesses look to keep costs down by choosing a provider that specialises in consumer solutions – instead of choosing a provider that specialises in business solutions. By opting for cheaper consumer solutions, SMEs do not get the built in security features and support – such as automatic data backup, firewalls, cloud-based systems, etc – that business providers offer. The consequences of this decision can be disastrous. If an SME falls victim to ransomware (or other types of cyber attacks), the costs extend far beyond the initial ransom that has to be paid for the data to be released. The business will experience extended downtime, damaged brand equity and a considerable loss of trust in the marketplace. Added to this, a compromised business tends to overreact to the attack and then overspend on security solutions thereafter.
In reality, guarding against ransomware is both straightforward and relatively inexpensive. It does require, however, partnering with an Internet provider who will take a consultative (as opposed to purely transactional) approach to your business. The right partner will understand both your needs and risks as a business, and then provide solutions that protect your data from day one.
3. Call your provider (today)
Finally, understand that there are no symptoms or warnings that come attached to ransomware. If you are attacked, your data will be held ransom until the fee is paid. No one can unlock the data once it has been encrypted. This means that preventative action is everything. Either take the threat seriously, today, or run the risk of finding a ransomware note splashed across your desktop.
On the other hand, if preventative measures are in place, and your data has been properly backed up by a trustworthy provider, then a ransomware attack need not bother your business at all. You can simply refuse to pay the ransom, and call your provider for support. Your data will be safe, and immediately accessible.
The more businesses and individuals that take this approach, the less powerful and common ransomware attacks will be. Cyber criminals are getting their way because people and businesses have yet to attach real value to their data. But once this connection between money and data has been made, and preventative measures are put in place, ransomware will lose its power.
So call your Internet provider today. There is only one question to ask: Can you assure me my data is safe? If they are not able to help you here, immediately find another provider who can.