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Beware of ransomware: Small businesses can take these simple steps to protect themselves

By March 14, 2019 No Comments

(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)

Ever heard of GandCrab, Ryuk, BitPaymer, SamSam, or Matrix?

They are all different forms of ransomware, a type of computer virus that for the last few years has wreaked havoc on businesses and organizations — big and small — around the world and is not going away anytime soon. It’s likely that your business has bumped into this problem. If not, you probably will.

There are plenty of other types of viruses and malware that can affect your business. But ransomware is particularly concerning because it’s a moneymaker for the entrepreneurial computer hacker. Just this last week, for example, a Georgia county paid more than $400,000 to get rid of a ransomware virus. Over the last few years, costly attacks have hit such big organizations as Merck, FedEx, Britain’s National Health Service, San Diego’s ports, and a Connecticut school district. And those are the just some of the cases reported.

Most incidents, particularly those affecting small companies, don’t make the headlines.

But that doesn’t mean small businesses are unaffected. A 2017 study found that more than one in five businesses with less than a thousand employees had experienced a ransomware attack that caused them to stop operations in order to recover and caused an average of $100,000 in losses per incident due to the downtime, according to a CNN report.

Ransomware is a multi-billion dollar-a-year business and it’s growing. In 2018, security firm SonicWall’s network reported 328.5 million ransomware attacks worldwide, a 120 percent increase from the prior year.

A ransomware virus can be easily downloaded as part of a file, a spam email, a click on a fake online advertisement or even by visiting a malicious website that appears to be legitimate. Once the virus is downloaded, it quickly spreads throughout a company’s network and then encrypts, or locks up, all files. The makers then demand a “ransom” — usually a few hundred bucks in some form of digital currency such as Bitcoin — to get a key code that will unlock the data. That’s assuming they’ll live up to their word.

So are you excited about the prospect of paying some hackers in Eastern Europe a ransom and then hope they will live up to their promise and send you a decryption code? Do you really think they’ll never bother you again? I hope not. What you need to do is take these proactive steps to protect your business.

Update your security software: My company uses Malwarebytes but there are other good security applications, including McAfee, Symantec, Bitdefender and FireEye. Make sure the software is installed on all devices. Nowadays, these types of applications update themselves as long as you let them. Do that. And don’t let your subscription lapse.

Get training: Multiple studies have shown that the biggest cause of security breaches is you. Oh, and your employees, too. Many of us inadvertently click on things we shouldn’t be clicking or we browse to “phishing” and other dubious websites where malicious software is downloaded without our knowledge. Bring in an outside firm to conduct annual training for all of your employees. Consider using applications where customized security tests can be created that your employees must take (and pass) regularly.

Subscribe to an online backup application: These relatively inexpensive applications won’t stop a ransomware attack from happening. But because they’re continuously backing up your applications concurrently from your devices and servers (both internal and hosted) you’ll be able to wipe everything clean if you are attacked and restore from your last good backup. Yes, you may lose a few hours or even a day of work. But in the end you’ll be up and running quickly with nothing paid out to the ransomware maker.

Upgrade your operating systems: If, for example and like millions of other small businesses, you’re running Microsoft Windows, make sure you’ve got the most recent version installed on all of your devices. As I write this, there are tens of thousands of software “bots” that are secretly looking for older, more vulnerable computers running out-of-date operating systems that they can exploit. All they need is one out-of-date machine and they are into your network. A current operating system is a strong defense.

I admit that none of these tactics will guarantee that you’ll go unscathed by a ransomware attack. But employing them all will make it less enticing for a hacker to strike your business. That’s because with so many businesses that have such poor security, why should a hacker waste time with yours?

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