Like other forms of cybercrime, ransomware is seeing a rapid increase in popularity around the globe. While many criminal enterprises exclusively target massive organizations, the reality is that between 50-70% of all ransomware attacks target small-to-medium-sized businesses. The reasons are varied, but smaller businesses tend to have less complex defenses. They may be more willing to pay a ransom instead of taking an alternate route to resolve the incident.
Ransomware has been so successful that some entrepreneurial-minded criminals have begun to offer ransomware as a service. This is where less technologically savvy attackers lease a ransomware program to conduct cyber attacks against their chosen targets. First, we'll give you a quick overview of what these malicious programs are, and then we'll outline five steps that you can take to help prevent ransomware attacks against your small business.
What is Ransomware?
To paraphrase Sun Tzu, knowing your enemy is the key to any sort of battle strategy, and make no mistake, defending your business from cyber attacks can be nothing short of an all-out war. Determined criminals may lay siege to your networks and use a multi-pronged attack to gain access to your sensitive data.
Ransomware, in particular, is a type of malware that encrypts specific files and prevents access unless a ransom is paid. This malicious software can even encrypt your entire system leaving you helpless unless a decryption key is provided after payment. That is if the attackers even provide a decryption key; relying upon the honesty of a criminal is a dicey proposition at best. That's why it's so important to find effective ways to prevent ransomware attacks in the first place.
Top 5 Tips to Prevent Ransomware Infections
Ransomware infections are extremely difficult to recover from once the encryption is already in effect. Instead of trying to do damage control after the fact, your resources are much better spent with investment in a few key areas to secure your systems in advance.
Staff and Employee Training
Humans are always the weakest link in any risk management exercise. Policies, procedures, and security features are significant, but employees can and will always find ways to circumvent or sometimes outright ignore established rules. This is why you absolutely must invest in a structured and frequent cybersecurity awareness training program. If your staff understands the reasoning behind specific procedures, then it increases the likelihood that they will follow them.
The best training programs include regular reminders, webinars/videos, and scheduled in-person training blocks. Training exercises should be included regularly, both announced and unannounced, to further solidify the concepts in your staff's minds. This lets them practice the procedures you've harped on in the training blocks. Unfortunately, a training program alone will never be enough.
Leveraging Preventative Software Resources
It can be a difficult pill to swallow. The expense of security tools to protect against cyber threats will always be a red line in your budget. Many executives can much more easily justify the purchase of the best CRM for salespeople than a top-of-the-line anti-malware software solution, but this is where an ounce of prevention can be worth its weight in gold. Even the best-trained employees are inherently human and will make mistakes. The proper antivirus and anti-malware software can catch or isolate those mistakes before they become disasters.
Email settings, firewalls, and more can be tweaked within the dashboard of most premium security tools. Some programs include regular data backups that can be stored either in the cloud or offline. These backup files can help restore your operating systems should you fall victim to a ransomware attack if they are compiled regularly enough. These added protection and breach notification layers could alert IT staff to potential cyber threats in real time. A quick and coordinated response to a cybersecurity incident can mitigate much damage, but we'll discuss that shortly.
Emphasize Email Security
When tailoring your security posture to account for a known ransomware threat, the smart money is to focus on email security. The vast majority of ransomware infections begin with a suspicious email. A malicious link or an attachment embedded with malware is buried within a phishing email, and every effort of the attacker is focused on getting your personnel to click those links or open the attachments. There are email filters that allow for blocking URLs from unknown senders, attachment sandboxing, and many other options that may be appropriate given your specific business operations. Still, your training and IT efforts should be centered on email.
Another force multiplier when it comes to thwarting ransomware attempts is applying the theories of network segmentation to your systems. Separating these systems into their own partitioned areas with unique login credentials limits the exposure of your sensitive data. Combined with the principles of least access, they could substantially reduce the quantity of data accessible to ransomware malware.
It's important to remember that the ransomware threat does not exclusively present itself through suspicious emails. There have been many incidents of attackers gaining access to operating systems through vulnerabilities in the remote desktop protocol (RDP) and other means. With such a large potential attack surface, it's difficult to envision where cybercriminals will look for their next target. That is an excellent argument for why network segmentation and least access principles should be applied widely.
Develop an Incident Response Plan
Our final recommendation for preventing ransomware attacks is less about proper prevention and more about mitigating damage. At a certain point, it's safer to assume that an attack is a foregone conclusion, and to best prepare for that, establishing an incident response plan is critical. Developing, implementing, testing, and revising an incident response plan should be integral to your cybersecurity posture. Creating actionable and meaningful review and revision procedures will ensure that your plan remains fluid and adapts to business operations and personnel changes.
At E-Marketing Associates, we strive to help small businesses compete with major corporations on a fraction of the budget. We recognize the struggles that may present and even publish a regular newsletter for small businesses with additional information and resources. We offer many programs that can help your small business stand out from the crowd. Contact us and see what we can offer for your unique situation today.