Diagnosing the Ransomware “Problem” [Updated for 2023]

woman struggling to fix pipes under sink

Day after day, new stories of ransomware shutting down companies and governments fill our news cycle and often end with million-dollar ransoms being paid to cybercriminals. The threat of ransomware can feel overwhelming. How should business owners keep this terrible problem from attacking them?

What if the answer to that question was to stop focusing on ransomware?

Though it may seem ridiculous, ransomware is not the problem business owners should be addressing. Ransomware is a symptom of a much bigger, more pernicious problem among organizations big and small: poor cybersecurity.

Ransomware Is the Symptom, Not the Problem

When a person’s sink won’t drain, they probably assume there is a clog somewhere along the line. They get some drain cleaner and pour it in. After a few minutes, the drain starts doing its job again and they forget about it, until it happens again and again.

Only when they call the plumber for help do they learn the clogged drain isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom of something bigger. Roots have broken through the pipes far down the line and must be cleared out. Treating the visible symptom as if it is the main problem may help in the short-term, but only when experts dig down to find and deal with the underlying cause does the problem fully go away.

Ransomware attacks are the clogged drains of the IT world. They are the obvious, debilitating event that you see clearly and have to address immediately when they happen. But ransomware is not the real problem—it’s a symptom of something much worse. Of those businesses that suffered a cyberattack in 2019, 44% experienced more than one.

That’s because businesses keep treating the effects of the symptom but fail to recognize that there is a more dangerous underlying cause—poor cybersecurity.

Reacting to a ransomware event can lead to security improvements, but it doesn’t change the bigger problem. Only when you bring in the experts to assess your business’s cybersecurity and IT infrastructure as a whole will you discover the systematic root cause of your cybersecurity problems.

The Underlying Condition

How do you treat the underlying problem in your IT systems? Your business’s IT infrastructure and cybersecurity measures are a lot to deal with, and that’s where the problem creeps up. If a business neglects proper setup and configurations, monitoring, or the basic care and maintenance that IT systems need, cybercriminals can find the gaps and work their way in. That’s why doing it right is essential to a productive and secure IT solution.

It can feel too expensive, too complicated, or too overwhelming, especially if you’re not the most tech-savvy person to start with. Investing in good IT staff or a security-focused managed services provider (MSP) makes all the difference to the long-term wellbeing of your IT infrastructure—and, yes, it will be an investment—but the alternative is worse. Cyberattacks cost you in money, downtime, analysis and rebuilding, reputation, and clients. Paying to secure your systems now will save you more than money in the future.

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A security-focused IT team or MSP will take a big-picture approach to your IT and cybersecurity needs. Hardware, software, cybersecurity, daily maintenance, and active systems monitoring all work together. A failure in even a single area could allow a cybercriminal to

  • infiltrate your business’s entire system,
  • steal your data and credentials,
  • spam your clients and vendors with malicious emails,
  • create an easy access gateway to any other business you’re connected to, leaving them vulnerable to the same attacks,
  • and set off ransomware to extort as much as they can. Even if you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your systems and data back.

Don’t Ignore the Biggest Cybersecurity Stressor

You can’t truly treat the problem without knowing what could cause it again, and for cybersecurity the biggest susceptibility is the people, not the technology. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of breaches involved a human element. Ongoing cybersecurity training is essential to keep the cybercriminals out of your systems. Train your employees and test their ability to identify phishing or business email compromise scams.

It only takes one click to nullify all your technological security measures, so give your employees the tools and training they need to protect your business.

Don’t wait until you suffer a ransomware attack to fix the problems in your cybersecurity. No system is 100% breach-proof, but that’s no reason to make it easy on the cybercriminals. Keep your cybersecurity top-notch and maintain the condition of your IT systems. That way you’re treating the problem—not the symptom.