Ransomware is a type of malware or software program designed to lockup a device that is connected to the Internet, limiting access to the device and/or data in demand for a ransom. It has been around for over a decade now and cyber criminals have used that time to incorporate lessons learned and vastly improve their malware and approach. According to the IBM report (2016), “Ransomware: How Consumers and Businesses Value Their Data”, there were four times more ransomware attacks in 2016 than in 2015. This is expected to rise in 2017. Most of the time the device is infected with ransomware by someone clicking a link that they shouldn’t. It is regularly in the news:

  • In late January Licking County, Ohio government offices (including police) were completely shut down by ransomware. This impacted a government supporting 166,000 people. As of February 2nd, they were only expecting to have some systems available in the following week.
  • One week before inauguration day the networked surveillance cameras around Washington, D.C. were infected with ransomware. The system was out of operation for four days preventing security monitoring.

With ransomware, cybercriminals are less focused on targeting a specific organization focusing instead on people. According to CSO magazine in the article, “Who is a Target for Ransomware” (May 5, 2016), individuals are considered the weakest link, especially if they are not technically fluent. We individuals are a good target because we store our most valuable digital content on our home computers and devices and most of us do not employ backup systems. With ease, a single ransomware campaign can reach millions of end users. It takes a very small percentage of people to be infected and to pay the ransom to be successful.

So why does ransomware continue to work today? It’s the human between the seat and the keyboard. This is another example of the need for the user to be educated and aware of cyber-threats. At the OPI (Office Products International) conference last year I asked the audience to raise their hand if they fasten their seat belt in the car before driving. As you would expect, every single hand in the room went up. We need to think of cyber-security in the same way that we think of safety. You don’t think about it when you lock your seat belt before driving because it is second nature, cybersecurity needs to be the same; without even thinking you need to question the source of a link before clicking.

There are steps that you can take to lower your risk of being a ransomware victim:

Implement a Cybersecurity Behavioral Change Program: Prevention is the best defense. Making sure that the link does not get clicked on is really the only way to prevent a ransomware attack. Cybersecurity behavioral change doesn’t have to be limited to companies and organizations. You can develop a program for your family.

  • Discuss examples of recent attacks covered in the news
  • Document your family’s cybersecurity best practices and put them into action
  • Start teaching your children early

I also recommend listening to Dr. Hend Ezzedine’s podcast on how she helps organizations to get people to understand security topics and concepts and to create a positive security culture.

Invest in a Good Security Solution: It is well worth the money to install security software on your computer and mobile devices. A search on Google will find many companies that offer security solutions that include anti-ransomware. Do your research and invest!

Keep All Software up to Date: If you do not have the latest patches for the software on your computer you are more susceptible to all types of malware. It is important that you regularly update your computer.

Backup Your Important Data (and TEST the backup): Most organizations already backup their corporate data. A key task that is sometimes missing is testing to verify that the backups are working. I have seen several instances where data was lost because the backups were corrupted. Make sure you add regular testing into your backup processes. Most individuals do not backup their home computers and mobile devices. There are many cost-effective solutions for backup available to the consumer market. If you have your key data backed up, the impact of a ransomware attack is limited. PC Magazine has a recent article which covers the best online backup services. I use one of the listed online backup services for my own data and have found additional benefits, like the ability to access my data from any device anywhere.

Manage the Security Settings on your Computer: When people receive a new computer they often set their login account up with administrative access, it is a better practice to create an account with general user access for day to day use and a separate account with administrative privileges that is only used for administrative tasks. The article “Keep Windows 10 private and secure: How to set up separate accounts” (2017) contains information on how to do this. If the account that you use on a day to day basis has limited access to make changes to your system; it is less likely that malware will be able to install, even if you click on a link accidently.

What it really comes down to is that the best way to prevent any impact from ransomware is to avoid becoming a victim by changing your cybersecurity behaviors. Think before you click!

Is your company in need of help to make the behavior changes needed for robust cyber security? Your employees can be one of your first lines of defense against ransomware. Get in touch to find out how.