Four ways to avoid ransomware and minimise its effect on your company, credibility, and general sanity, plus a bonus tip on how to combat ransomware.
Consider the following scenario: Your website is currently unavailable. It’s locked and you can’t get in. When potential customers find their way to the competitor’s website, panic sets in. Isn’t it possible that things will get even worse? But, oh, it does! You receive an email informing you that your website has been kidnapped and that you must pay a ransom to reclaim it.
Although this may sound like something out of a Baldwin brother movie from the early 2000s, it is a very real threat. It’s a ransomware infection. But what exactly is ransomware, and what is the key to avoiding it? We’ll look at what this cyber threat is and provide five ways to avoid and combat ransomware.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is malware that prevents users from accessing their website, device, IT programmes, servers, or some other type of data or system until a monetary payment — such as a ransom — is produced. It usually entails encrypting or removing files, records, or even backups in order to force the user to pay a ransom in exchange for access to their own data.
The frightening thing is that ransomware does not require the development of a crazy genius. Malware is frequently more complicated since it is intended to remain undetected for as long as possible. Ransomware does not need to be very sophisticated because it easily alerts the consumer to its existence.
If you are the victim of a ransomware attack, don’t expect a cash payment to solve the problem. Due to the lack of personal identity attached to the payments/currency, hackers often request payment in a digital currency such as Bitcoin (if any at all for some other types of cryptocurrencies). Many times, cybercriminals would request Bitcoin because of its greater anonymity while still being readily available and allowing for verifiable payments.
Ransomware hackers are usually considerate in their requests, such as not demanding $1 million from a consumer who simply cannot afford it. The sweet spot is where the ask is low enough that paying it seems like a better option than dealing with the hassle of solving the issue, but high enough to justify the hacker’s time.
Ransomware attacks are on the rise, as are demand amounts, payments, and costs…
Baltimore, Maryland, was struck by a ransomware attack on its city computers in 2019. The city rejected the hackers’ request for $76,000. Although the attack was admirable, it cost the city an extra $18.2 million.
It should be noted, however, that ransomware demands are increasing. From Q3 to Q4 2019, the “average ransom payment rose by 104 percent to $84,116, up from $41,198,” according to a survey from 2019. A huge leap! If a payment deadline is missed, some hackers can double or even quadruple their ransomware demands.
So, if you don’t want to be the poor sap who googles how to convert money into Bitcoin, I recommend learning how to combat ransomware. Furthermore, the United States of America In certain cases, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury considers paying ransomware (or encouraging the payment of ransomware) to be a sanctionable crime. As a result, you must find the best defence, and the best defence against ransomware is not to have to deal with it at all.
Consider it a form of preventive maintenance. This is how you can avoid becoming a victim of ransomware.
Tip 1 to Prevent Ransomware: Use Email Spam Filters
One of the most popular ways ransomware enters your system is through phishing emails, which is why we’re starting here. You must keep your email safe. Consider your email as a digital door that is still open to new guests. So, how can you keep intruders from getting in? Stop them in their tracks before they reach the entrance!
This is exactly what spam filters do. They’re essentially what their name implies: a spam filter that you can integrate with your email server to block emails that have been identified as spam. There are several options available, but you should look for the following features in your email spam filter provider:
- Some spam filters are simply designed to block emails that contain those terms that have been flagged as spam. That’s not nice enough!
- Instead, search for a spam filter with a malware scanner and compliance with the SPF and DKIM protocols. Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail:
- SPF stands for Sender Policy Framework (not the kind you use at the beach). It basically ensures that any email you receive was sent by a user who was approved by the domain’s admin to use the domain specified on the email.
- DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is an acronym for DomainKeys Identified Mail. The method of signing off on an email with a digital signature that can be checked using a shared cryptographic key stored in your DNS record is referred to as DKIM.
You’ll be able to help avoid malicious emails before they hit the door if you use a spam filter sophisticated enough to detect malware and reliably work with your other email protection methods (SPF and DKIM).
Tip 2 to Prevent Ransomware: Train Your Employees
In fact, technology can only do so much to keep ransomware at bay. If a phishing email containing malware gets through your spam filter, your web security protection will no longer be able to detect the threat; instead, it will be up to your employees to do so. Phishing emails prey on human nature by social engineering, which is why the workers need to be educated about possible threats. This is where cybersecurity training comes into play.
It’s best to include this training as part of the onboarding phase, then make it a required annual employee course after that. It’s critical to include the following things when creating a programme or vetting service providers that can do it for you:
- Tips on how to recognise a phishing email, as well as common telltale signs found in phishing emails (with enough examples, employees will start to pick up on the dialect and verbiage commonly used in a phishing email).
- When you notice a phishing email, who should you contact in your company? (or a potential one).
- How to determine the origin of an email you’ve sent.
- What they should look for when determining whether a website is phishing or not.
Take a look at the phishing email example below, which may very well be ransomware…
There are a few things to keep in mind here. One issue is the email’s ambiguity. For example, don’t call “the wife” by her first name or refer to the work function by its job title. Furthermore, phishing emails often seem to contain strange typos for some reason. This may be due to the fact that many hackers use a mass strategy to find a victim (i.e., they send hundreds of emails every day, which may explain the lack of attention to detail) and have copy-paste problems. Finally, the most troubling characteristic is the urgency with which the sender attempts to persuade the recipient to click on the connection. This is a common hacking technique.
These are just a few of the topics that your employee awareness training can cover, and they’ll help you figure out how to avoid ransomware.
Tip 3 to Prevent Ransomware: Use POLP
Our next prevent ransomware tip, including employee training, is designed to minimise the negative effects of human error. The “principle of least privilege” (POLP) is the act of restricting access to your systems and data for each of your workers based on their job responsibilities. The idea here is that if you restrict access as much as possible, and an employee’s credentials are compromised, the hacker will be less likely to gain access to do serious harm. It’s the pinnacle of prevention.
Your intern, for example, is unlikely to require access to a database or the ability to customise website themes. Let’s look at a few pointers for putting this principle of access control into practise.
- All mutual accounts are being deleted (each employee should have their own account with a unique username and password).
- Delete all accounts that aren’t being used right now (for example, the account of a past employee).
Changing user permissions so that all workers have access to only the data and systems they use to do their jobs (nothing more, nothing less).
In the future:
- Change account permissions to fit the duties and obligations of the employees. Don’t allow them access to anything if they don’t need it to do their work.
- Employees who quit the company should have their accounts deleted.
When it comes to preventing ransomware, this is a great first move.
Tip 4 to Prevent Ransomware: Perform Vulnerability Patching & Mitigation
Not all ransomware is spread through phishing emails; existing vulnerabilities are another popular way for ransomware to enter your system. This is why you should run manufacturer updates and patches on a regular basis: to fix those bugs until they can be exploited by a hacker.
An automated vulnerability scanner tool is the simplest and most effective way to identify other vulnerabilities. From small-scale scanners that search your website for vulnerabilities to enterprise-grade vulnerability scanners that scan your entire network, this tool may help. When searching for a vulnerability scanner, look for one that is known to refresh their database with the most recent known vulnerabilities on a regular basis (check reviews).
If you’re searching for a vulnerability scanner for a website, make sure it checks for vulnerabilities in the CMS that your website uses (i.e., if you use WordPress, for example, make sure the scanner looks for WordPress updates).
Bonus Tip: Fight Ransomware with an Automated Website Backup Tool
This last tip doesn’t quite fit into the “prevent ransomware” category, but it does fit into the “quickly resolves the ransomware problem” category — which is a handy tip to have on hand. Consider it a last-ditch covert weapon. An automated website backup service can automatically back up and archive your website files so that you can recover them in the event of a disaster (like a ransomware attack).
When choosing an automated website backup tool, there are a number of useful tips to keep in mind, which you can read more about in the articles mentioned below. However, using a website backup service that stores your website data in a “secure spot” is the most critical feature to look for in an automated backup tool to overcome ransomware attacks (and the effect of other forms of cyber threats).
What we mean is that there are a variety of ways to back up your website, but the problem is storing the backup data. If you keep them on your web server, locally, or in your own personal cloud storage account, they could be hacked along with your website. As a result, you can use a programme like CodeGuard. CodeGuard stores your website files securely in its own encrypted cloud server as an automated website backup and restore tool. This way, if you need to rebuild your site, you can do so safely (and CodeGuard allows you to do it in one single click).
A Last Word on Ransomware Prevention
Please remember to use the suggestions above as you continue on your journey. They’ll help you a lot in your search to figure out how to avoid ransomware. These ransomware situations can be saved for the next Baldwin blockbuster if you follow these tips.