Imagine arriving at work one day and turning on your computer only to find a message instructing you to transfer several thousand dollars in Bitcoin to an unknown location by a specific time or all your data will be locked forever. This sounds like a nightmare scenario but is becoming more common every day across the globe. From major media corporations to state and federal governments, ransomware attacks have become a threat to the global economy. But what is ransomware, where does it come from, and how can you protect yourself and your company from it?
Ransomware is a form of malware that gains access to an infected system and blocks the ability of the user to interact with it, other than seeing a message from the attackers. The goal of ransomware is to extort money from, or even blackmail, the victim. The most common form of ransomware, as described above, encrypts data on a system making it unavailable to end-users. In some cases, the attackers will threaten to make all data on the system public. In a somewhat surprising turn, paying the ‘ransom’ will indeed result in the attackers releasing your data in most cases. This trend does not, however, mean that you should pay the ransom as it is likely that the attackers will maintain access to your system and may demand payment again.
Ransomware attacks utilize the same methods as any other form of a computer virus for delivery and exploitation. The most common way is through phishing or sending a misleading email to an individual who will click on the link and unknowingly download the virus. Other methods of infection include unsecured wireless networks, unauthorized logins, or even physical methods, such as a planted USB drive or theft of a computer. In the past, ransomware was considered overly sophisticated for the majority of small parties; most ransoms were conducted by state actors such as North Korea, Russia, Iran, and China. However, as more code has become public, it has become much easier for private groups and cybercriminals to develop and implement ransomware attacks. The groups most at risk of a ransomware attack are those where any disruption of operations would be catastrophic such as major corporations, healthcare organizations, and governments.
Although a ransomware attack can be devastating, careful planning and high-quality network security practices can help you evade attacks or mitigate damage. With the constant arms race between hackers and security providers and the unavoidable risk of an employee making a mistake or clicking on a fake email, no system can guarantee 100% protection. However, developing a comprehensive security framework will limit exposure and help an organization react during and after a security incident. The following steps can be taken to help minimize risk and loss.
While the threat of ransomware will likely continue to grow, hope is not lost. With the right MSSP, you can eliminate unnecessary disruption across the organization. Meridian IT’s security services focus on providing threat-centric security solutions across the entire network to help customers be strategic, proactive, and responsive to security incidents.