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News : Ransomware is big business and bigger trouble

Ransomware is big business and bigger trouble

cybersecurity-rules-linkedinIf you've been keeping an eye on the news recently, you'll know that cyber crime is on the rise. Attacks and breaches are at an all time high, and businesses are being put under increased pressure to keep their critical data secure. We talked about the very real threat of hackers making off with your data in our recent article on 2018’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (which you should probably read, by the way) - but what about when your data isn't just compromised, but locked down under threat of deletion?

If the title wasn't a dead giveaway, we're talking about ransomware today. It was the biggest digital threat of 2016, and it shows no sign of slowing down. A ransomware infection can cause massive, irreparable damage to company data - and yet, only 4% of businesses surveyed said they had safeguards in place to deal with a ransomware attack. That's an alarming statistic, and there's more where that came from.

Stand and deliver - your money or your files

So what exactly is ransomware? (We expect you know this already, but a little refresher never hurt anyone.) In a nutshell, ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts files on the victim’s computer, then demands a payment to decrypt them. These payments are made anonymously to organised cyber-criminal groups using Bitcoin, so they're impossible to track down. Some strains of ransomware attempt to seek out frequently used or important files to encrypt, while others attack indiscriminately for maximum speed. To add insult to injury, paying the ransom doesn't guarantee your files will be restored - often the criminals will either demand a second payment, or simply take the money and scarper.

So where does it come from? Don't computers in the modern age have security in place to prevent malicious programs from installing themselves? Well, you'd be correct there. The lion's share of ransomware payloads are delivered via phishing or social engineering - that is, tricking unsuspecting victims into opening infected files or visiting compromised web pages. These are typically distributed via innocuous-looking emails; who could resist opening that totally legitimate invoice from “Sales”? These scams prey on people’s impulsiveness - a second glance would reveal an unknown sender and a suspicious attachment, but it’s all too easy to pop open a well-intentioned Word file and find yourself infected. Ransomware takes advantage of exploitable World document macros, or executable JavaScript files disguised as other file formats, to load applications onto the victim’s system.

Scamming by numbers

We’ll be publishing a ransomware infographic soon, which will cover all the juicy facts and figures you need to know. Until then, here’s a breakdown of the vital statistics. Ransomware in 2016 was an industry worth a massive $1 billion - although if you add in lost productivity and other expenses associated with dealing with infections, that figure skyrockets to a frankly ridiculous $75 billion! The reason for these alarming numbers is simple; almost half of all businesses have suffered a ransomware attack in the last 12 months alone, making it by far the most effective malware in recent memory. It’s a testament to the brashness of many businesses that 80% of those surveyed insisted they’d have backups in place to recover in case of a ransomware infection; in reality, less than half of those businesses are actually able to restore from the aforementioned backups.

What's next for ransomware?

Industry experts (read: nerds) predict that ransomware will only get worse through 2017. Naturally, malware creators will be looking to make their payloads more infectious, spreading faster and to more users, but trends suggest they’re also upping ransom demands from a fairly conservative average of $400 to a huge $10,000 or more. As we discussed above, many businesses don’t have backups in place so they’re forced to comply with these expensive demands, some forking out ransoms in excess of $40,000. More worryingly, ransomware is set to get smarter, being distributed via new “fileless” methods that embed malware directly into the Windows registry to avoid detection by antivirus software. Additionally, recent ransomware has upped the stakes by threatening not just to leave business data encrypted, but to release it to the public. This new threat sidesteps the matter of businesses restoring data from backups, essentially forcing them to pay up. The future looks bleak in the fight against ransomware…

Fight back!

It’s not all doom and gloom. The tools you need to fight back against the threat of ransomware are out there, and many of them are free. One of the key weapons in your arsenal isn’t something you can download or buy off a shelf - it’s awareness and education. Informing staff about the dangers of unsolicited emails and suspicious attachments goes a long way towards reducing the chances of infection. Nobody’s perfect, so there are also anti-ransomware applications available to download, which specialise in detecting when files are being encrypted. Personally, we recommend Cybereason RansomFree, although there are many others on the market. [https://ransomfree.cybereason.com/]

Silver Lining’s resident cyber security expert, Pete McKenzie-Baughan recently hosted an educational webinar on the dangers of ransomware and what your business can do about it. We should hopefully have the content of this webinar online for all to view shortly. In the meantime, should you have any questions or concerns regarding ransomware and how to protect your critical business data, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We won’t try to sell you anything; we’re more than happy to consult with you on the right choice for your business.

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