Even though headlines regularly point out the security threat
landscape in the digital world with more audacious data breaches, businesses and consumers alike have grown complacent. Perhaps it is information overload, or many have reconciled with the fact they will eventually be hacked and there is little they can do about it. The recent breach at the IRS is one great example. In light of this and other events, it really makes you question, what can a small business with limited resources really do when even the IRS can’t manage to stop an attack? The answer is plenty, but if you don’t stay vigilant and take the necessary precautions, there are many ways in which hackers will exploit your vulnerabilities, and ransomware attacks is one of the ways of doing it.
What is a Ransomware Attack?
In essence ransomware attacks are designed to hold the computers they infect hostage by locking key files or entire systems, and if a ransom is paid the computer will be unlocked. It should be noted, paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee they will unlock the computer and it goes against the recommendation of law enforcement agencies.
A ransomware is a malware that restricts access to your computer by disabling the functionalities of your device; this can be a desktop, laptop, smart phone or tablet. Depending on the author of the malware, it can be designed to lock you out of your computer or encrypt and hide personal files so you won’t be able to access them. This type of attack might seem the brainchild of criminals in today’s digital environment, but it goes back as far as 1989 when Dr. Joseph Popp sent the PC Cyborg Trojan, also known as the AIDS Info Disk ransomware out in 20,000 floppy disks.
How Does Your Computer get Infected?
Like any other malware, a ransomware needs to be invited or it exploits vulnerabilities in your system to make the breach. The most common way is by visiting websites that have been compromised and clicking on a malicious link or ad, accidental or unknown downloads, infected removable drives and opening an infected email.
Protecting Your Computer Against Ransomware
First and foremost is it is extremely important to reiterate this fact: DO NOT PAY. Contact your local law enforcement agency and follow their recommendations. However, before it even gets to that point you can take precautions to mitigate an attack or restore your system from backups if your device has been compromised.
1. Back Up Your System: You probably have heard this a million times, but there is a very valid reason for it. Backing up your computer regularly ensures you have the latest working system available if something should happen. This could be a malware attack, fire, floods, equipment failure, theft or any of a hundred things that could possibly go wrong. External storage devices are very cheap, and having a back in a safe place is a very, very smart investment.
2. Secure Your Device: Granted there are many options available when it comes to security software, but taking your time to find out the exact solution for your specific needs will pay off great dividends in the future. Find and install the right anti-virus/anti-malware software.
3. Update Your System: Updating your operating system, applications and security programs patches any vulnerabilities they might have. The automatic updating feature on your computer can perform this task so you won’t forget. But even with this feature turned on, you must check manually because not all software providers are as thorough as they should be.
4. Think Before You Click: As mentioned earlier clicking on links from questionable sites and opening emails from sources you don’t know is the easiest way for hackers to gain access to your system. Use a spam filter on emails and make sure the security software you choose has email protection.
A very important fact to remember is that hackers don’t want to work day and night to breach your system if the payoff is not great. If you’re a small business and you implement one barrier after another as part of your security protocol, the payoff will not be big enough for these criminals to spend the time it takes to breach your system. But this requires small businesses to stay vigilant and spend the little time it takes to ensure every system you have in place is always up and running.