While cyberattacks in general are a growing threat for every small to medium-sized business, ransomware poses more dangers than most.
Why? For starters, it’s a major loss for your company, both financially and operationally. Compromised data, angry clients, and a damaged reputation are a triple threat that’s enough to send any business owner to their knees. That’s why ransomware is so effective.
How Does Ransomware Work?
“Ransomware” isn’t a misnomer. The attacker using it literally locks you out of your own data and then holds it for ransom. They demand payment in return for your own information.
Generally, ransomware attackers use a simple phishing email or similar attacks to compromise your network. Once they have access, they analyze your network and files to find security vulnerabilities. Finally, they attack your files and block your access.
You may discover the attack when you attempt to access these files. Often, a notification indicates that the files are blocked until you make a payment (usually with cryptocurrency) or meet other terms.
Should You Pay the Ransom?
The tricky part of ransomware is determining whether or not to pay up. Some experts advise against paying the ransom, but if you refuse to pay the attacker may follow through on their threats and you will lose access to your data forever. However, if your organization has a proper disaster recovery plan in place that is regularly tested, you might be a step ahead.
Alternatively, if you make the payment your putting a lot of faith in the hands of criminals to follow through on the terms of the agreement. You may find yourself out the ransom money with your data still locked, or even worse stolen and sold, while also having funded further activities by the hackers.
Notorious Ransomware Attacks
Experts estimate a new ransomware attack occurred every 11 seconds in 2021. While only the biggest attacks make headlines, these aren’t isolated events. Here are two of the most notorious ransomware attacks in history.
In early May 2021, hackers attacked the systems that control the Colonial Pipeline. Production ceased, and gas prices spiked across the country. It made national headlines and led to days of shutdowns. Eventually, the company paid $5 million to the attackers in an effort to resume operations.
In May 2017, the WannaCry worm attacked millions of internet users across the world. It specifically targeted computers running a version of Microsoft Windows that didn’t have up-to-date security patches. Each user received a prompt to pay between $300 and $600 in bitcoin to restore access to their systems.
How Can Businesses Protect Themselves from Ransomware?
Notably, cyberattackers don’t always target the largest companies. In fact, 43% of attacks target small businesses, and 60% of these companies go out of business within six months.
Ransomware has become so prevalent that—despite their counsel not to pay the ransom—the government has even made some ransomware fees tax deductible to offset the enormous cost that comes with a ransomware attack.
Rather than having to determine whether you’ll pay the hefty ransom or not, a better strategy is to actively protect your business against ransomware. Here are some tips:
- Cybersecurity for small businesses is essential. Attackers look for even the smallest vulnerabilities, so actively monitoring your systems to patch weaknesses is key.
- Stay aware. Train employees to recognize suspicious emails and downloads—phishing is one of the primary ways ransomware attackers gain access to your systems.
- Maintain good password hygiene. Use strong passwords that are different across each account and employ multi-factor authentication to keep hackers out.
- Backup your data. A good place to start is with the 3-2-1 method: three copies, two different storage methods, and at least one method offsite. From there additional modifications can improve the system, and make sure to test regularly!
While ransomware attacks are a foreboding thought, you don’t have to live in constant fear. If you stay on top of your data security, increase your system monitoring, and educate your staff about the dangers of ransomware, you’re already ahead of the game.