Knowing how to protect against ransomware can be the difference between your company surviving or your company being destroyed. Even if you survive, an attack can leave you crippled, potentially losing you millions.
It’s happened to big companies and it can happen to you. Nobody should consider themselves immune to ransomware attacks. You need to be prepared, vigilant, and adaptable to the times.
There are many types of ransomware cybercriminals may try to employ but the goals of an attack tend to always fall into two broad categories.
The first category of attack is one made for profit and is perhaps the most common type of ransomware attack. A criminal chooses a vulnerable target, gets ransomware installed on a key system, and then tries to profit.
The second category of attack is one made to disrupt. Ransomware can shut a critical system down, forcing a company to a standstill. Then the company can be bled for money to deactivate the ransomware, further weakening them.
To be clear, these goals can also be somewhat mixed. For example, it seems many hackers are choosing somewhat political targets but ones that also offer a high potential for them to profit.
How political an attack is can be hard to determine, however. Many attackers will claim an ethical or political motivation but, at the same time, stand to profit so much from an attack that understanding their true motivation becomes muddied.
If your company is small and somewhat apolitical in nature, it would be easy to assume by the above that you’re unlikely to be attacked. However, that isn’t how ransomware attacks work.
While it is true that large, rich companies tend to be prime targets for cybercriminals, that’s only true if they are vulnerable. However, large corporations also tend to have at least somewhat competent cybersecurity.
What hackers tend to focus on when it comes to choosing target is vulnerability. If a target is easy to attack, it doesn’t matter if they’re large or small; the effort can often still be worth it.
There are many ways to become a target for hackers but the way most of them could be summed up is “poor cybersecurity.” If you are vulnerable to attack you are also at higher risk for an attack to occur.
For example, many cybercriminals are aware hospitals tend to have software that is years out of date. Unfortunately, this also means the software is quite vulnerable to attack, even if the staff are doing their best to be secure.
Moreover, the employees at most companies aren’t doing their best to be secure. Many employees aren’t tech-savvy and can be a great way for hackers to get into systems.
Ransomware attacks are serious business and no company is safe. If you want to protect yourself, work on the assumption that, at some point, you will draw the attention of a hacker.
These kinds of attacks are so serious and rampant, in fact, the US government has started to treat them on the same level as terrorism.
(If this sounds extreme, consider hackers are targeting important infrastructure like water treatment plants or oil pipelines, holding it hostage via ransomware, and demanding money.)
Understanding the basics of how these hackers operate isn’t enough. For that reason and more, we’ll now tackle some key ways your company can better guard against attack.
Most companies do not have a security expert on staff. In fact, many companies might have employees who are older and unfamiliar with all but the basics of computers.
None of this is something one needs to be ashamed of but it does need to be acknowledged. Companies need to admit they may be out of their depth if they are going to improve their security.
In many companies, your staff are the most vulnerable part of your organization. A common method of attack for hackers is to either call or enter a building in person and simply request key information.
If those with access to key information are not trained on who to share it with (and how to verify the identity of who they’re talking to), this can be a very effective approach.
Your staff should also be aware of common phishing techniques. While some may seem obvious to the average millennial or zoomer, remember that many older employees grew up in a world without (or with minimal) computers.
Staff should know never to download programs that have not been verified as safe and necessary onto company machines. Doing so can put a whole system at risk.
Many people get annoyed by software updates, putting them off as long as possible. However, a company can’t afford to do this (and home consumers really can’t either).
Many software updates are meant to solve vulnerabilities discovered in the old software, making the program more resistant to attacks. Unless you know an update will make a program worse, install it.
The biggest offender when it comes to places companies should have updated but didn’t is probably operating systems (OSs). Your OS is a critical component of how a computer’s “brain” works.
An outdated OS is a massive weakness in a system, as hackers have had years (sometimes decades) to learn about its vulnerabilities. If you want hackers on the backfoot; keep your software updated.
In an air-gapped network, all communications on computers within the network are isolated from other internet networks. Computers are offline (although some large organizations may still have a significant intranet they still use).
Air-gapping isn’t possible for all parts of every company, but it can be a great way to protect key systems. For example, it’s important hospitals don’t allow life-critical systems to be manipulated from afar and air-gapping can help.
This process may sound complex but it isn’t too difficult to implement. One way that can make it easier to grasp is imagining splitting your company’s systems up into groups.
Critical systems should be air-gapped while less critical systems can be given more leeway. A company needs to keep in mind, however, that some computers will need the internet to communicate with customers or allow for research.
Backing up data doesn’t solve every element of a ransomware attack. If an attack goes off and files are obtained by hackers, there is still a risk they leak them.
This can still cause major issues for a company. However, it is rare that a leak would be as bad as a total loss of everything a hacker gained access to.
We offer Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) at NETdepot, meaning your company can ensure files are never lost, even in the event of a hack or other disaster.
This allows a company some leverage if they ever do get attacked, as a hacker at least can’t destroy months or even years of work if they aren’t paid.
Most companies do not have the resources to keep a traditional dedicated security team on staff at all times. Even many IT departments don’t focus on security so much as keeping systems operational.
At NETdeport, we offer Security as a Service (SaaS) to the kinds of companies that can’t afford a huge security team but still want to stay protected.
The type of help our expert team can offer is substantial and thorough, helping companies to identify vulnerabilities in their security and then patch them up.
This not only helps guard against ransomware attacks but cyber threats of all kinds. After all, it is rare a security vulnerability can’t be exploited by hackers in a variety of ways, rather than just one.
We’ve discussed a number of things to keep in mind about ransomware so far but it needs to be mentioned that far too many companies care about these things after an attack.
Waiting until you’ve had a breach in your security is the worst time to prioritize security. Instead, you need to prepare beforehand to help prevent an attack and to lessen the damage should one be successful.
A very bad habit some companies engage in is to only update their security after attacks. Security should be updated consistently; hackers evolve and your company needs to as well.
At NETdepot, we’ve helped companies protect against ransomware and more. Your security could very well be what stands between your company’s success or failure. We’d love to help.
In addition to all the security services we’ve linked to above, we also encourage you to explore our blog. It is full of helpful security advice, all of which is free!