At its core, ransomware is a specific type of malware that is designed to encrypt all the files and other data on an infected device – thus rendering them essentially unusable. But the thing that separates ransomware from so many other types of malware is that the information on the infected computer is essentially held hostage – hence the name. All the files are encrypted, and rogue actors offer decryption in exchange for money. More often than not, these hackers will also threaten to leak or outright sell the data if the victim chooses not to pay the ransom at all.
Ransomware: By the Numbers
One of the things that makes ransomware so terrifying is that it’s popularity is actually increasing as time goes on – and quite significantly so.
According to one recent study, the volume of ransomware attacks taking place worldwide grew literally 350% in 2018 alone. Successful attacks in general increased an enormous 41% in 2019, during which time more than 200,000 businesses lost access to important files. All told, it’s estimated that businesses in particular will fall victim to a ransomware attack at a rate of one every 14 seconds – pointing to a situation that is unfortunately getting worse as time goes on.
Best Practices for Defeating Ransomware
While it’s absolutely true that there’s little you can do to prevent yourself from becoming the target of a ransomware attack, there are certain steps you can take to prevent becoming a victim – all of which you need to familiarize yourself with moving forward.
By far, the most effective way to fend off a ransomware attack involves making sure that all critical files and other documents are backed up. As a rule of thumb, you should keep at least three separate versions of all important information on two different storage types – with at least one of those being in an off-site location like the cloud.
That way, even if one of your machines does become infected, you can essentially just roll back to the previously copied versions of those files.
Keeping your computers updated is also one of the keys to defeating ransomware, as more often than not these attackers are using vulnerabilities in operating systems that had previously gone undiscovered. A lot of people don’t realize that whenever a new operating system update is published, it does more than just add new features or tweak the user interface. It fixes security loopholes and other vulnerabilities that hackers can use to successfully execute these types of attacks. Therefore, it is in your best interest to make sure your systems are always up-to-date whenever possible.
Finally, the importance of end user education in terms of ransomware simply cannot be overstated. While the technology at the heart of ransomware may be sophisticated, the approach that is commonly being used to execute these types of attacks is anything but.
The vast majority of all successful ransomware attacks are really the product of social engineering. Hackers are using things like phishing attacks to gain access to user credentials which can then be used to place the malware files on a computer hard drive or file server.
Therefore, employees need to be trained on a regular basis on how to both identify and avoid these common ransomware traps. They need to know what a phishing email looks like and how to spot the often subtle differences they have when compared to legitimate emails. They need to be educated in terms of “malvertisements,” meaning those ads on websites that at first seem legitimate but that are really just a backdoor used to place infected files on your computer.
According to another recent study, the FBI reported a massive 300% increase in cyber crimes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only that, but the average cost of a single data breach is now $3.9 million across small and medium-sized businesses in particular.
But at the same time, another study revealed that ransomware and other security-related risks are literally reduced by as much as 70% when businesses simply invest in cybersecurity training and awareness. Not only that, but even a modest investment here has a 72% chance of significantly reducing the business impact of a cyber attack should a successful one occur.
Once you also consider the fact that even the least effective training programs still have a 7x return on investment, it’s easy to see why this is one step in relation to ransomware that is well worth taking.