One of the biggest cyber threats your business can encounter is ransomware, a type of cyber attack that involves taking your private information and hold it hostage. This cybercrime is a common way people lose their passwords and credit card information, but businesses are at an even bigger risk by having company data and customer information stolen.
With this in mind, you must know what to do if you or someone in your business falls victim to a ransomware infection. There are several ways to respond to it arriving on your computer and all kinds of ways you can prevent it from happening in the first place.
Here is everything you need to know about making sure ransomware variants don’t cause trouble with your business and the best ways you can protect yourself from a ransomware attacker.
What Is Ransomware
Ransomware is a unique type of malware, a piece of software that encrypts your information and prevents you from accessing it while also potentially allowing a remote user control over copying, deleting, or returning the restricted content. Ransomware can be tied to specific pieces of information on a computer, but some ransomware can also restrict a computer entirely so that you’re unable to do anything with the device.
Ransomware is different from other types of malware because it usually includes a pop-up that asks for a ransom payment for you to get your data and device back. If you choose not to pay within a given amount of time, they can usually threaten to delete your data, publish it publicly online, or raise the amount of money to get it back, forcing you to respond quickly.
Once payment is made, either through the ransomware or externally, the cyber criminal claims that they will return the device to its normal state and resolve the ransomware incident.
How Does Ransomware Work
Ransomware can be incredibly frightening when you encounter it for the first time, and it is easy to download without meaning to. The programs that run ransomware aren’t usually put on computers directly by hackers. Instead, the software gets onto the computer by tricking someone into clicking an innocent link that disguises itself as a normal file or website.
When someone opens or downloads the malicious software, it uploads the ransomware automatically and may give the cyber criminal direct access to control your files or device further. The specifics of how the hacker is involved varies with each piece of ransomware, but either way, it will cause serious problems without the owner of the ransomware needing to do much.
The links that ransomware downloads from are commonly spread through suspicious emails. These emails are sent in mass quantities by automated bots, usually pretending to be large companies with information for you that is only available through clicking the links attached. Many email providers will block these from appearing in your primary inbox, but those that get past can be convincing for those unaware of what cyber threats look like.
Why Does Ransomware Work
The most frustrating part of ransomware is that it can be alarmingly effective if the victim doesn’t know how to respond. If you have a short amount of time to pay the ransom to the malware authors or if the stolen information is sensitive, it can seem incredibly easy to pay the ransom and be done with it, but there’s not always a guarantee that paying the ransom will get you your back.
Simply put, any response to a ransomware threat can cause serious problems for you and your business, and it’s so intimidating that it can cause business owners to make some poor decisions. Small businesses without much cybersecurity are common targets. If you think you are vulnerable, you learn how to respond to ransomware as well as how to recover from it and remove it.
Should You Pay The Ransom?
If you happen to encounter a piece of ransomware, you should never pay the ransom to get your data or device back. You will not know if the cybercriminal removes the ransomware from your computer, and these costs can be extremely high and cause serious financial damage. The money will usually come directly out of your pocket or your business’s profits. Depending on the size of your business, these costs can be destructive.
With these costs and dangers in mind, know that removing ransomware will almost always be far less expensive than paying the ransom. Instead of paying a cybercriminal a large sum of money out of fear, you can spend less money on specialists that can remove it properly and invest money on new cybersecurity improvements that will prevent it from happening again.
How Common Is Ransomware?
There are more efforts than ever by law enforcement to track and prevent ransomware owners from damaging businesses and business owners, but there are still many cases of large and small companies being pressured to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom fees. One of the biggest cases of these includes a type of ransomware called Ryuk, which holds data hostage while also preventing Windows computers from restoring backups.
Ryuk has managed to hit all types of IT systems, with its victims ranging from US hospitals to newspaper companies like the Tampa Bay Times. Ryuk has also been upgraded to hit full-sized web servers for an even wider set of targets, proving that ransomware is still becoming more advanced and increasingly dangerous. As a result, you must know how to deal with ransomware if you’re unfortunate enough to encounter it.
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks
Generally speaking, the best way to prevent ransomware is through general cybersecurity hygiene and awareness. On the tech side, your business accounts should ideally use complex passwords that are unique from other devices you might use, and you should make sure to have firewalls and trustworthy antivirus software on all your business devices.
On the human side of cybersecurity, you should also make sure your entire staff is aware of cyber threats so no one becomes a ransomware victim. Not only should they be informed to recognize it and avoid downloading it, but they should train to tell others if they think they have downloaded a piece of malware since it’s easier and less expensive to remove it if caught early.
How to Recover From Ransomware
Recovering your data from ransomware can be extremely difficult, but there are a few things you should do if you’ve fallen victim to it. The first is to remove your infected device from your internet and local area network, which will prevent it from spreading to other computers. Those other devices should still be checked with antivirus software in case it already has spread. From there, you can usually try removing the ransomware much more safely.
That said, the main way you can recover from ransomware is through using backups. Some operating systems have their own backup data, but you will likely want to keep a data backup on an external hard drive or storage device that isn’t constantly attached to a device. This way, you can fully delete all the information on a computer or mobile device and have it running like normal without as much effort.
How to Remove Ransomware
If you want to try taking ransomware from a malware attack head-on, there are a few approaches you can take. It might seem easy to pay the ransom to the malicious actors, but there isn’t always a guarantee that a payment will bring things back to normal, as some types of ransomware may still refuse to unlock your data and may load more ransomware into your system that can activate later.
As mentioned earlier, once you remove your device from the network, it’s much easier to safely deal with ransomware without posing a risk to your business’s other devices. From here, you can usually run antivirus software and safety programs on your computer to find and securely delete the ransomware, but you can also take it to other tech support companies to help further.
If you manage to become a victim of ransomware, you don’t have to panic, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to make a sudden or poor decision. It is a common threat, and while a strong cybersecurity system can be effective at preventing ransomware, it is plenty possible to recover from it if you respond to it safely and calmly.
Ransomware will always cause far more damage if you deal with it impulsively or don’t tell anyone about it when you think there’s a risk. As long as you catch it early and seek help immediately, you can prevent ransomware from causing serious long-term problems for you and your business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is adware, and how can you prevent it?
A: Adware is similar to other types of malware, like ransomware, but instead of holding data hostage, it will usually throw advertisements on your screen. Hackers will usually get money from advertisers from the ads forced onto your screen, and many of these ads may even trick you into downloading other types of ransomware. You can prevent it through many of the same cybersecurity checks and removal systems as ransomware.
Q: Which devices are under threat from ransomware?
A: Nearly any device can be threatened by ransomware, from desktop computers to smartphones. Anything that connects to the internet and download files can potentially access ransomware. Practice internet safety when using any device, especially personal devices used for checking work emails.
Q: Can a VPN protect me from ransomware?
A: VPNs can help prevent ransomware since they hide your IP address and encrypt your data to make you harder to target. That said, this doesn’t prevent you from downloading ransomware through deceptive links or emails, meaning your VPN will not actively protect you if ransomware ends up on your device.
Q: Should you report ransomware to authorities?
A: Yes, you should try to report ransomware to the authorities. Not only might they be able to help you, but they can also use the information you give them to help prevent ransomware from affecting others. Many companies or agencies you report it to will also not publicize information about your ransomware attack, so you don’t usually have to worry about your reputation when going to someone with information or support.