Have you ever received an email from a prestigious university or the IRS requesting you to open the attached file? If you know even a little bit about a ransomware attack, you would be doubly cautious in opening such emails.
Especially for startups that do not have the funds to deploy a high-tech security solution for their offices, it is essential to know the nitty-gritty of ransomware so they can be best prepared to prevent such kind of attacks. A ransomware attack on a startup can lead to substantial losses.
Hence, I have put together some vital aspects of ransomware that the startups should be aware of.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malicious software (or malware) that can be injected into your local systems/servers through diverse sources. One of the primary methods of injection is through emails, also called phishing.
Once your system is infected with ransomware, the software takes effect and locks you out of the system. The access of your applications and data is entirely in the hands of the attacker, who can then ask for a ransom to provide you access. Hence, the name ransomware.
The Motive Behind It
There can be numerous reasons behind the plan of a ransomware attack. Firstly, the most obvious reason behind a ransomware attack is extorting money from an organization. As the data is critical to every startup and cannot be, in any case, allowed to fall into the wrong hands, the startups have no choice other than to pay the hacker.
According to Small Business Trends, 55 % of small business owners are willing to pay the attackers in the event of a ransomware attack.
Another reason for the attack can be a personal vendetta against the company. If the group of attackers feels a sense of injustice or contempt against an organization, they can target it to cause damage.
Lastly, a ransomware attack can also be perpetrated by the competitors to slow down the growth of your business. As a ransomware attack can cause the business to be non-functional for several days, it is an effective mode of attack.
Modes Of Ransomware Attacks
Here are some of the most common modes of ransomware injection into your system –
Injecting ransomware through email attachments is one of the most common ways to infect your system. The emails contain a subject line that looks familiar to the user. For instance, it can be disguised as a popular e-commerce platform or a university from where you have studied.
It leads to the user becoming nonchalant in opening such emails, thinking that it is from a known source. Moreover, most employees do not identify the different types of file types that differentiate a document from ransomware.
The most common file types for a ransomware attack have ‘.exe’ and ‘.scr’ extensions to it. These are executable files and should not be opened in any case. Once the user downloads this file and opens it in his/her system, the ransomware gets installed in the system.
Another common type of ransomware injection is the emails that lure the users into clicking on a URL provided in it. For instance, you might get an email disguised as the IRS, asking you to click a link to check your tax filing status.
The link might look something like this – www.lRS.com/check-tax-filing/
After a close inspection of the link, you will realize that the ‘I’ in IRS is actually an ‘L’ in small letters. However, since the email is so realistic, no one inspects the link and clicks on it instinctively. Once you click on the link, the ransomware gets injected into the system.
Drive-by downloads are the type of downloads that happen without your knowledge. When you open a malicious website in your office premises, the website that contains the ransomware injects it into your system. You are completely oblivious to the fact that your system is not infected.
The Internet is full of such websites and generally have their names similar to some popular website with heavy traffic. When you type the name of the popular website and make a typing error, the malicious one opens.
The drive-by downloads take advantage of any vulnerabilities in your network security or web browser.
External Storage Devices
The external devices like USB flash drives or hard drives can also the cause of a ransomware attack on your startup. The ransomware attack due to external devices can be intentional or due to human negligence.
The user might have got the ransomware from any external source like his/her personal laptop. However, when the user plugs in the device in the office, the entire local network can get infected with ransomware, causing havoc in your startup.
Methods of Prevention
Here are some of the best practices the startups can adopt to prevent ransomware attacks:
Periodic IT Security Analysis
As a startup owner, it is imperative to conduct regular security audits on your existing IT infrastructure. Tabs should be kept on any security loopholes, and steps should be taken to improve them.
Employees should be trained in the essential concepts of ransomware and the best practices to avoid it. Regular training sessions should be conducted and the employees should be educated not to open any suspicious links or emails in the workplace.
Backup Your Data
As a ransomware attack can be used to compromise the integrity of your data, it is always wise to keep a backup. The backup can be kept in servers in the same location or a remote location such that it can be recovered easily.
Update The Systems
The local systems in your office should be updated with the latest version of antivirus and anti-malware. Moreover, the latest patches should be installed in the operating system that contains safeguards against different ransomware types.
Use Of Advanced Platforms
A more advanced platform than the local IT setup like cloud services can be used to protect your business against ransomware. With disaster recovery, your entire data is replicated to multiple locations, nulling any effects of a ransomware attack.
Implement Access Controls
You should deploy access control policies for all your online data and processes. Every employee in your startup should have defined roles and permissions based on which they should be given access to the data. For instance, a marketing professional’s systems should not have access to the startup’s financial data. Limited access will lead to limited damage in the case of an attack.
In this digital era, the perks of being online, outweigh the perils. However, cyberthreats like ransomware is a menace for every organization, more so for startups. The attackers make you pay a hefty ransom that can hamper the business in more than one way.
Hence, security protocols should be followed in offices with defined procedures. The startups should keep a check on their IT security as well as educate the staff on the different methods and types of ransomware. With the increasing number of ransomware attacks, IT security should not be taken lightly.