What is ransomware? How can you prevent it or stop it?

Are you worried about ransomware? Or is it something you simply don't give much thought to? Ransomware may not have yet become a concern for your business, but it can result in significant damage if it does. Moreover, it may take a toll on your bottom line if you feel forced into paying hackers to release your data.

Ransomware can also combine with data theft for an additional blow to your business finances. But, perhaps more concerning for a business is the potential damage it has on the reputation of your business. It can be a challenge to maintain your hard-established dignified and professional brand image once a hacker has publicly embarrassed your business in the eye of the public.

Hackers can and do target businesses of all sizes. Can you stop it? How can you ensure your IT environment is hostile to the external threat that ransomware poses?

There is no one quick and correct answer. If your business has a robust endpoint security solution that features EDR capabilities, it can help to deter several attacks for the simple reason that many cybercriminals won't bother to target an enterprise that has good cybersecurity. These enterprises don't make easy and reliable targets for would-be cybercriminals looking for the path of least resistance.

That said, there is no cybersecurity solution that can claim it deflects 100% of attacks. A combination of approaches can get you closer to complete protection against a ransomware attack, however.

An understanding of ransomware

Do you know what ransomware is and how it can damage your business? Ransomware is a type of malwareprogram. Once a hard drive or system is infected, the program scans for information that holds value to the individual or an organization. This could include databases, images, documents, spreadsheets, and more.

Once the program has found what it's looking for, it encrypts all of the data. The files will then be locked and inaccessible by the user. The ransomware will display a message that then demands a payment to unlock and restore the data.

It's important to point out that even if the targeted victim pays what is demanded, they are not guaranteed access to their data.

  • The cybercriminal may send a decryption key after getting the payment, with instructions on how to unlock the files.
  • In some situations, cybercriminals may take the money and simply vanish.
  • There are cases where cybercriminals cannot recover the data, even if they had an interest in doing so. The ransomware can cause irrevocable damage to the files.

There are several ways that ransomware can infect a device or a system. However, just one device can cause extensive damage and bring a corporation and its communications to a complete halt.

Being mindful of phishing risks

Phishing poses several cybersecurity risks, both to individuals and enterprises. While not always thought of as being connected to ransomware attacks, phishing often goes hand-in-hand with a ransomware attack. All it takes is for an employee to let their guard down and fall for the scheme that the hacker is running. Phishing is one of the most successful, versatile, and potentially dangerous ways a cybercriminal can infiltrate your network.

Educating your employees is one of your first lines of defense against phishing attacks. They will need to know what to look for in their emails.  As a part of your robust defense, you will need to incorporate email security, firewalls, and antivirus solutions. If you can keep your employees from seeing the emails in the first place, that will help. Teach them to play an active role in your business's digital perimeter instead of being a potential liability.

Patching things up

Hackers can be relentless when it comes to looking for any possible vulnerabilities to exploit. With that in mind, every vulnerability can become a potential entryway for ransomware unless you address them. To manage each unknown vulnerability, you need to be aware of patches and stay on top of them.

Don't delay installing developer-released patches. Just about every patch will have vital security info to help better deflect hackers. Whether for hardware, firmware, or software, you will need to keep on top of patches as they are released.

Addressing known vulnerabilities

Patches released by developers typically address unknown vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, there are also often areas of known vulnerabilities that enterprises don't always address promptly. These could include Wi-Fi connections and single-factor authentication portals. To do your part to help stop ransomware, you will need to integrate your enterprise endpoint security solution with multiple cybersecurity tools that include VPNs and identity management.

Have a solid incident response plan

How prepared is your organization if a hacker can breach your security defenses? Is your IT team ready? Are your employees prepared to do their part?

An incident response plan is essential to help make sure that everyone understands what to expect during a cyberattack. That said, simply having a plan sitting on your desk is not going to be useful if it hasn't been practiced and optimized to ensure it's easy to follow and will get results.

Cybercriminals don't often warn that they are about to attack your organization. You will need to be prepared for it to come at the most inopportune moment.

Your data has been encrypted – now what?

If you find yourself the victim of ransomware, and your data is encrypted, what should your next step be? Indeed, this is a potentially harmful situation for your company, but there is still the possibility that you can recover your files.

What should your next steps be?

  • Don't pay the ransom. Every payment contributes to the development of more malicious software. And it serves as a signal to cybercriminals that their efforts are profitable. Moreover, as already mentioned, paying the ransom may not release your files to you.
  • Speak with your IT security experts. They may be able to find out the type of malware that is infecting your system. In addition, decryption software may already have been developed to get rid of it.
  • Healthy IT practices will include backing up your data routinely. If you've been doing this, simply wipe your infected systems and devices clean. Perform a fresh install. And then shore up your defenses.

Awareness is one of the best defense systems we have against malicious software and other cybercriminal attempts. Your organization should routinely run cybersecurity awareness training that helps to keep everyone up-to-date on what cybercriminals may be pursuing today.