Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to encrypt computer files and deny or delete access to them until the victim pays a fee. Essentially, the data is held hostage until the ransom is paid.
Many ransomware attacks come as an attachment on an email and may cause a computer to freeze and display a ransom message, instructions for payment, and a countdown clock on the screen.
Ransomware attacks can install a sudden fear and panic into their victims. To an extent, the fear is justified. The impact of ransomware can be financially devastating if high fines need to be paid or if the files cannot be recovered.
Even though the threat of ransomware has been well known in the tech community for decades, it is a problem that’s difficult to wipe completely. It only takes one wrong click or download to give cybercriminals the access they need to completely take control of your data.
How Do Ransomware Attacks Happen?
Since the first recorded incident in the 1980s, ransomware has continued to advance. Even high profile organizations such as healthcare providers, hospitals, and school districts are susceptible to a ransomware attack.
Ransomware can appear through various channels and in different forms. Common ways include email links, PDFs, Word documents, or links to malicious websites.
Ransomware software can encrypt documents, data, photos, and other important files so they cannot be accessed without a key. These attacks can quickly work their way up a network of computers and devastate an entire organization. For example, a ransomware incident in 2017 impacted ~4000 servers and 45,000 PCs along with ~2500 applications over a period of about 2 weeks.
One of the most infamous ransomware attacks in recent years was the Maze Ransomware Attack. It spread through multiple channels, including “look-a-like cryptocurrency sites and malspam campaigns impersonating government agencies and well-known security vendors.”
The Impact of Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware continues to be a growing threat to organizations. While having their documents, networks, or servers encrypted and inaccessible, the results of a ransomware attack are financially devastating.
Attackers will request the ransom to be paid in bitcoins, a digital currency that makes it impossible to track back to the owner. The anonymity of it makes it difficult to track down and charge the criminals.
By the end of 2020, ransomware costs were projected to reach $20 billion dollars in payments to cybercriminals. Specifically, the Maze ransomware attack targeted an IT services supplier, Cognizant, which was predicted to cost between $50 million and $70 million as they worked to fully restore their computer systems.
Recovery From A Ransomware Attack
Ransomware can take out a whole organization. Even if external backups are available, it and still take a few days to get everything back up and running.
Between paying back the criminals (although some experts advise against paying the ransom), the system going offline, projects being brought to a halt, the attack can potentially result in loss of customers.
The consequences of not regaining the encrypted data might have a severe financial impact on an organization. There is no guarantee the attackers will ever send the decryption key after meeting their demands – they may run off or the demands may continue to increase.
Some decryptors might be able to help, and the company might need to pay an IT specialist to help uncover their data. It’s best to take action before it can happen.
Methods to Protect Against Ransomware
If you do experience a ransomware attack, we highly recommend shutting the computers down and disconnecting all network connections. The next step is to call a professional to restart everything from saved backups or decrypt the files.
To avoid a ransomware attack in the first place, here are some steps you can take to remain vigilant and prepared:
Regular Security Software Updates – Keep all software programs up to date and working properly on all employee devices. Developers will often patch vulnerabilities with new updates.
Employee Training – Internal threats are one the largest sources of security breaches. Keep employees informed on security best practices so they can be aware of these types of attacks.
Cloud and Physical Backups – Backups are the most straightforward method to restore systems if you suffer a ransomware attack. In most cases, you can wipe your computer and avoid paying a fee. Always have regular backups of important files on the cloud and an external hard drive.
Use Pop-up Blockers – Install pop-up blocker software to protect against unwanted pop-ups and also browser hijacks, malware, and adware.
Partner with an MSP – Find the right data protection and backup solutions for your organization.
Prepare As If A Ransomware Attack Could Happen at Any Moment
Ransomware is not that much different from other cyber attacks – they happen within seconds and can leave a devastating impact on those affected.
No single method of ransomware protection is foolproof. However, without any protections in place, an organization is very vulnerable to an attack.
Find the right IT solutions to stop ransomware in its tracks. The experts at Wahaya IT Consulting can help pair you up with the right security solutions for your organization, employee awareness training, and regular backup tools.