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Ransomware: Why is it on the Increase?

The modern office has come a long way over the last three decades; can you recall the realms of physical paperwork ‘carefully’ filed in enormous, overbearing filing cabinets that were kept under lock and key for each drawer? The keys themselves were also kept locked away, and you underwent interrogation by the guardian of the keys each time you needed access.

Now let’s look at the set up in 2016 – technology has penetrated every aspect of our lives, and I challenge you to find a business that isn’t reliant on technology. Between emails, simple office applications, CRM or ERP software, telephone systems and servers – we are running our business within a virtual filing cabinet and using digital means to conduct almost all of our communications.

The data that is converted into a written format that appears on our screens resides on a server, often locked away in a dark room or in the elusive ‘cloud’ – also locked away in a dark room but of a much more secure nature. Regardless of the way your business chooses to store its data, we can all agree on one fact – losing data is potentially catastrophic to your business. Coming to realise that your business and client data is no longer there or perhaps even worse, the data has been stolen and the cyber criminals are demanding a sum of money in order for it to be safely returned.

 

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These viruses, known as Ransomware are some of the most damaging out there, and unfortunately it’s not only on the increase but the viruses have evolved to be nothing short of catastrophic to a business.

Typically, ransomware will encrypt a document such as one in a Microsoft Office format sitting in My Documents or My Pictures for instance, the virus then encrypts all the data stored on the computer by adding a password onto it. Commonly, there will be a set of instructions left on the computer along with information that lets you know exactly what has happened to the data and how you are able to recover it.

Of course, having your data stolen and held at ransom isn’t enough – there has even been cases where the maliciousness goes even further and victims are threatened with indecent images being uploaded onto the computer and the police notified unless the sum of money is paid within a specific timeframe.

In a business environment, computers are often linked together on a network and also to the business server. If this virus manages to infiltrate the server and the network drive, the entire business will find their data locked down, and this will have all started on one computer. You do NOT want that computer to have been yours.

Not to add more doom and gloom to this already dire situation, but it is often unlikely that you will get around the encryption using extension files or removing the virus from the system. While the expansion of the digital world has brought with it many positive attributes – in cases such as these we see businesses becoming vulnerable to attack’s that require no physical presence to be utterly destructive. Small to medium sized businesses haven’t found the digital equivalent of the lock and key system that is going to protect their data.

So how can you protect yourself?

We would strongly advise against paying any ransom that has been set. There is no guarantee that the data will be safely recovered and you may even find that the price will even increase – this is not the time to be lecturing about your legal or ethical rights. The reason that we keep seeing these viruses is because the criminals get what they want – the ransom is being paid.

We recommend that as a business owner, you ensure that your IT systems have a reliable, secure backup solution – it is critical that system backups are performed regularly because this will provide some salvation should you find your data stolen. You should also look to underpin this with anti-virus software.

However, much of it comes down to education within the business. Employees should be made aware of the ways that a virus can enter a computer through an infected attachment or clicking a suspect link in an email. Cyber criminals have also been known to make their software downloadable on trusted software sites. Also, be aware that the device you are using doesn’t make you any less vulnerable – both Windows PCs and MACs find their data encrypted, the viruses are constantly evolving across different devices and platforms.

If you are unsure of the level of security that is currently protecting you digitally, feel free to consult with the team at Microbyte who can advise you of the best products and practice.