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Ransomware: What it is, why you should care, what you can do to protect against it

Author , Posted In Posted in: Data Backup, Managed IT Services, Tech News, Tips and Tricks

Ransomware’s been in the news lately because criminals have been holding the computers and data of major institutions hostage, like hospitals and universities. These attacks have forced some victims to stop using their computers entirely. Other victims have given up and paid money to their attackers in the hopes that they can get back control of their computers and their information. Some got their data back, but others didn’t: you can’t trust criminals.

Ransomware is a particular kind of virus or malware. Like other viruses and malware, it’s basically a malicious program that gets on your computer or device and runs. There are many ways ransomware can get on your computers or devices. The most common ways are by opening malicious attachments you get through email, or by browsing to sites that push the malware on to your system without you knowing it. What makes malware tricky is the emails can look real, and sometimes legitimate, trustworthy sites are compromised to deliver ransomware.

Once ransomware gets on your system, it locks up your files, such as documents and photos, by encrypting them with a key that only the attackers know. The encryption makes it pretty much impossible for you or anyone else to get to those file without a key and the only way to get the key is to pay the criminals that attacked you and did this to you. What’s even worse is most Ransomware attackers will tell you there is a limited time to pay (typically three days) or else they’ll destroy the key. Typically, the ransom they demand is north of $500 and we’ve seen some as high as $2500.

Ransomeware attacks are relatively new to the scene, but attacks are still on the rise. A recent study conducted by Kaspersky Labs which evaluated the cyber threat landscape from July to September 2016 has revealed that cases of ransomware have more than doubled in Q3 when compared to Q2 this year. This marks the third consecutive quarter that has seen an increase, suggesting that security awareness training among users is lacking.

So what can you do about this? It’s best to prevent ransomware from attacking you in the first place especially in a business environment where uptime and your client data is of the utmost importance. These steps can help:

  1. Ensure you’re running a modern supported operating system like Windows 7 or Windows 10. XP has been end of life for a few years now and no business should have this operating system in use. If you do, get it replaced ASAP.
  2. Confirm all of your computer workstations and servers are all up-to-date. Being on top of security patches, especially on a server is mission critical. Ransomware can spread across a network in a hurry.
  3. Be careful when opening attachments. I can’t emphasize this enough. This is an old trick but still works. Think of every attachment you get as unknown and potentially dangerous. Did your friend really send that? Do you have an account with that bank? Are you really expecting a package? When it doubt: check it out.
  4. Run modern and superior security software. People often think you need just antivirus, but really what you need is Antivirus running alongside of a good antimalware product. Note, that all do NOT get along and work well together. Versa has a solution that does work, so please contact us for details.
  5. Now more than ever, an online backup solution is imperative for businesses to recover from Ransomware attacks. A local backup is a great idea, but the Ransomware virus will also encrypt those files. Thus, without a cloud backup of your critical data, you have no choice but to pay the ransom and hope and pray it works.

Ransomware is unlike any other virus or malware attack we’ve seen and as such it’s scary for businesses. However, understanding what it is and what you can do about it can help make it less scary. It’s something you need to take seriously. But there’s no need to panic. Get in touch with Versa today to ask about our fully managed or maintenance plans. We handle the security for you at one low fixed price.