By IT Director Luke Bragg
Are you aware that an invisible thief could be lurking in your computer right now, ready to strike at any moment? This thief is ransomware, malicious software designed to hold your data hostage. One moment you’re working on your computer, and the next, all your files are hijacked—inaccessible—and held for ransom.
The potential consequences for organizations are significant. Operations can grind to a halt, or customer data could be exposed, leading to financial losses and damage to your reputation.
Does this scenario sound alarming? It should. But here’s the good news: Your organization doesn’t have to be a victim. Armed with the knowledge and the right solutions and tools, you can protect your organization against ransomware.
Understanding Ransomware: A Primer
Ransomware is a type of malicious software—or malware—deployed by cybercriminals. Once it finds its way onto an employee’s computer—often through deceptive links in an email, website, or an app—it goes to work locking out access to your files. The only way to unlock them? Pay the ransom.
What drives these cybercriminals? Your data is valuable, plain and simple. To the criminal, the value of your data is how much you are willing to pay to get it back. They don’t want your data per se; they just want to hold it hostage and make you pay to get it returned.
But paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get your data back. In fact, according to a Forbes report, of the 80% of organizations that paid a ransom, 21% didn’t get their data back. That’s why ransomware prevention is crucial.
Proactive measures, such as keeping software up to date, backing up data regularly, and educating employees about the importance of cybersecurity, can go a long way in protecting your data. When it comes to ransomware, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t wait for the attack to happen. Take steps now to secure your data and keep the digital thieves at bay.
Ransomware Prevention Best Practices
At Anderson Technologies, we employ a set of cybersecurity best practices designed to protect against ransomware.
Regular Data Backups:
Just as you wouldn’t drive a car without insurance, you shouldn’t operate in the digital world without a backup plan. Backups ensure that even if your data is compromised, you can restore it and continue operations with minimal disruption.
Let’s talk about the golden rule of backups—the 3-2-1 rule:
- Three (3) copies of your data
- Two (2) different types of backup media
- One (1) copy of your data kept offsite or in the cloud
Three copies may seem like overkill, but it assures that if one backup fails, you have others to fall back on. Using two different types of storage media ensures your data isn’t all in one technological basket, reducing the risk of simultaneous failure. Keeping one copy of your backup offsite is your worst-case disaster recovery plan. If a physical catastrophe like a fire or flood hits your primary location, your data remains safely stored elsewhere.
How do you set up these operations-saving backups? The process is simpler than you might think. With reliable backup software or a cloud service provider, your managed IT partner can automate the process, meaning your data is backed up regularly without any intervention on your part. Once set up, the software will automatically backup your data at scheduled intervals.
Keep Software Updated:
Outdated software is the weak link in your digital defenses, providing an easy entry point for cybercriminals. In 2023, IBM’s Cost of Data Breach report examined zero-day (unknown) vulnerabilities and unpatched vulnerabilities and found that more than 5% of such breaches could be traced to known vulnerabilities that had not yet been patched.
Your operating systems, applications, and security software need timely updates. These updates often include patches that fix known vulnerabilities, making your system more secure. By neglecting these updates, you’re essentially leaving the keys to your data in the hands of cybercriminals. Your managed IT partner can set up an update schedule that helps keep you safe.
Strong Password Hygiene:
83% of data breaches are due to reused (and stolen) passwords, according to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigation Report. You can’t afford to not follow best practices. Download our free ebook and read more about passwords here.
When thinking about passwords, you’ll want to set rigid policies on password rules, encourage the use of password managers, and always enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) when available. With MFA, even if your password is compromised, hackers still need a second form of authentication to gain access. The most common types of authentication are something you know (a password), something you have (a code only on your cell phone), and something you are (biometrics, such as fingerprints). By using two or more of these factors, you make it exponentially harder for cybercriminals to access your data.
Passwords aren’t just guarding your data; they’re protecting your business’ future.
Employee Training and Awareness:
Human error is involved in 74% of all data breaches, including ransomware incidents, according to Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigation Report. Despite the advanced technology and security measures we may have in place, it’s often a simple human mistake that opens the door to cybercriminals. It’s akin to having an impregnable fortress, only for the gate to be left open by a careless guard.
This is where ongoing cybersecurity training for employees comes into play. Your employees need to be educated on how to safeguard your digital assets. Regular training can transform your workforce from potential security liabilities into your first line of defense against cyber threats.
Here are a few examples of tactics used:
- Phishing: This is the digital equivalent of baiting a hook and waiting for a bite. Cybercriminals send seemingly innocent emails that prompt recipients to reveal sensitive information or download malicious software. Have you ever received a letter from a ‘prince’ promising a fortune? Hopefully you didn’t have to find out firsthand that it was only to find out it’s a ruse after sharing your bank account for the deposit.
- Spear Phishing: This is phishing with a twist. The cybercriminals do their homework, targeting specific individuals or organizations, and often creating extremely convincing messages using the data they’ve mined for the attack.
- Pretexting: Here, the attacker creates a fabricated scenario to trick the victim into giving away information, like posing as a bank official, asking you to ‘verify’ your account details.
By acknowledging the role of human error in ransomware incidents, investing in continuous cybersecurity training, and staying vigilant against social engineering tactics, you’re not just protecting your data—you’re asserting your resilience against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.
Advanced Ransomware Prevention Strategies
Imagine the fortress we just described. While outward-facing security is excellent, the busy interior, where your business operates day to day, may be more lax. In building terms, maybe there aren’t proper firewalls, or sprinklers set up. If a fire breaks out in one area, there isn’t much to prevent it’s spread across the full fortress. In the same way, a single compromised system in your business network can lead to widespread disruption.
This is where network segmentation comes in. It’s like building firewalls between key areas of operation, ensuring that if trouble hits one area, the others remain untouched.
Network segmentation involves dividing your computer networks into smaller parts or segments. Each segment operates independently. Now, imagine if a ransomware attack—a digital wildfire—strikes. Your fortress is mostly protected from the outside, but human error leaves a window or door wide open. Once inside, the fire is prevented from spreading by network segmentation.
By isolating critical systems, you limit the damage of ransomware attacks. With network segmentation, you’re not just protecting individual systems—you’re safeguarding your entire operation.
Application whitelisting is a security strategy that permits only specified programs to run while blocking all others, preventing unauthorized or malicious software from making an unwanted appearance. System intrusion, social engineering, and basic web application attacks represent 92% of breaches for small and medium sized businesses, according to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigation Report. By using application whitelisting, you’re essentially telling these cyber threats that they aren’t invited.
So, how do you implement and manage an application whitelist? Let’s break it down:
- Inventory: Start by taking stock of all applications currently running in your environment.
- Categorize: Next, categorize these applications based on their function and trustworthiness.
- Establish Policies: Establish policies determining which applications are necessary for your business.
- Implement: With your whitelist ready, it’s time to implement it. Have your IT department or MSP configure your software and hardware to enforce your new policies.
- Monitor and Update: Keep an eye on the operation of your whitelisted applications, and update your list as needed.
By understanding and implementing application whitelisting, you’re not just securing your IT environment—you’re taking a proactive stance against cyber threats.
Not sure how to implement whitelisting? A managed IT provider can help!
Threat Intelligence and Monitoring:
When it comes to protecting your business from cyber threats, threat intelligence is a superpower. With threat intelligence, you’re not just reacting to these threats—you’re predicting and preventing them.
Threat intelligence involves gathering, analyzing, and applying information about potential threats and cybercriminal tactics. This valuable knowledge equips you to proactively fortify your defenses and outsmart your adversaries.
But knowing is only half the battle. You also need to keep a vigilant eye on your IT environment. That’s where continuous monitoring comes in.
Think of continuous monitoring software patrols your systems round-the-clock for any suspicious activities. By keeping an eagle-eyed watch on your networks, you can detect anomalies and respond rapidly, often stopping cyber threats in their tracks before they cause havoc.
Responding to Ransomware Incidents
What should you do when faced with a ransomware attack? The answer is simple: seek professional assistance. Cybersecurity experts know the game, they’ve seen these moves before, and they can help you navigate the situation. Above all, don’t pay the ransom until you have consulted with
- Your local FBI field office (check out this guide from the FBI)
- Your cybersecurity insurance provider
- Your IT team or IT provider
But what if you could avoid being put in that position in the first place? Seeking the help of a cybersecurity expert before a breach could help you devise a plan, prepare your systems to thwart an attack, and prevent your business from becoming the next victim of cybercrime.
In the ever-evolving digital landscape, staying one step ahead is not just a strategy—it’s a necessity. As ransomware threats become increasingly sophisticated, your defenses need to be even more robust. This is not just about protecting data—it’s about safeguarding your business’s future.
Remember, vigilance is key. The world of cyber threats is not static—it’s continually changing and morphing into new forms. Staying vigilant is like keeping an eye on the horizon, watching for the next storm.
So, are you ready? The power is in your hands. Implement the expert tips and best practices we’ve discussed. Don’t just read—take action. Because when it comes to ransomware prevention, action is the difference between falling victim and standing victorious.
This can be a daunting task, so working through Anderson Technologies’ free resources can be an effective place to start. And if you don’t have the time, resources, or know-how to dive in on your own, call an IT team like ours. We’re always happy to help.