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Explainer: What is Ransomware?


What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to encrypt files or stop users from accessing their systems. Users will know if they have fallen victim to a ransomware attack if they are struggling to access systems they usually use, and usually, business leaders are presented with a ransom demand from the criminal group that has attacked them. The ransom demand is normally a request for cryptocurrency (usually Bitcoin), and the criminals will promise a decryption key once paid in order to regain access to systems and data.

Ransomware is almost always allowed into a business' systems via phishing email, with either a compromised website being linked, or an attachment allowing the sender access. Once the criminal has gained access in this way, they will execute their encryption software, encrypting files on the victim network, rendering them unreadable without the decryption key. In some cases, the encryption software will be built to spread throughout the network, compromising the entire business, rather than just one user.

Clearly, the consequences of this can be huge. They can range from disruption to day to day operations or downtime, to financial losses, reputational damage, and regulatory fines. In some cases, it's possible that if the attack was caused by lax security protocols and is passed on to a third party (like a customer or supplier), your business could be legally liable for any damage caused. For most businesses, this is disastrous. In the UK, 60% of businesses don't survive 6 months beyond a ransomware attack. Of those who do, only 10% show growth 5 years after the attack.

Mitigating the Risks

Protecting against ransomware attacks requires businesses to take cybersecurity seriously, and implement policies and technologies that protect both users and their machines. Endpoint protection, like EDR, email filtering, and cybersecurity training can prevent infections from ransomware groups. Enforcing a policy of regularly updating software and hardware can also be crucial, as ransomware exploits are often fixed by software manufacturers as soon as they are made aware. Make sure your teams regularly shut down their machines and allow them to update.

Effective vulnerability management can be the difference between a near miss and an attack. Addressing security weaknesses before they can be exploited helps your business to be one step ahead of criminals targeting the small business landscape. Conduct regular vulnerability assessments, pen tests, and security audits, and act on the results to reduce your attack surface.

How to Respond

If your business does fall victim to an attack, it's important to have a response plan in place, as you would in the case of fire or medical emergency. It's important to isolate your infected systems, notify all relevant stakeholders, and engage with cybersecurity experts or MSSP Providers (like Mason Infotech) for help containing and remediating.

It's important to resist paying the demanded ransom, and to call the authorities. There is no guarantee that criminals will provide the decryption key or leave you alone just because you have paid them. Focus on restoring data from back ups, rebuilding your systems, and understanding how you were breached.

In conclusion, ransomware poses a significant and evolving threat to organisations of all sizes and industries. Understanding what ransomware is, how it works, and the implications of an attack is essential for effective cybersecurity management. By implementing proactive security measures, responding swiftly to incidents, and prioritising vulnerability management, organizations can better protect themselves against ransomware threats.

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