Back in May, Colonial Pipeline suffered a massive ransomware attack that forced a six-day shutdown. The entire East Coast experienced a crippling gas panic as citizens rushed to buy the dwindling supply of gas.
In 2021, ransomware attacks will cost an estimated $20 billion, a 5,700% increase from 2015. Not only this, but the cost of these attacks is estimated to exceed $265 billion by 2031.
This risk is especially high for financial companies, 90% of which experienced a ransomware attack in the past year.
If you have a business that uses online components, you could also be vulnerable to ransomware attacks.
Want to learn more about ransomware attacks and how to heighten your information security? If so, read on.
What Is a Ransomware Attack?
A ransomware attack is a sort of malware. this malware gains access to a company’s systems and then encrypts them. With their systems encrypted, the company cannot operate normally.
Then, the attacker demands payment in return for access to the hacked systems. The larger and more lucrative the business, the more money the attacker can demand.
The attacker normally requests payment in bitcoin, since companies and law enforcement can’t trace it.
Why the Increase in Ransomware Attacks?
The recent increase in ransomware attacks can be attributed to several factors.
- Ransomware attacks have been on the rise for a while. The economy has grown dependent on the internet. As this dependency has grown, so has the opportunity for cyber attacks. Cyber attacks thrive on unsecure internet companies. The current market has fed it.
- Some of the blame for ransomware attacks lies at the feet of the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 has forced many to work at home, the vulnerable points for ransomware attacks have multiplied.
- Increasing tensions between the United States and Russia — one of the major sources of cyber attacks against the United States — may have contributed significantly.
How Do Ransomware Attacks Happen?
Ransomware attacks typically exploit the weak points in a company’s cybersecurity. In the case of the Colonial Pipeline, the attacker likely used an old password that lacked multifactor authentication to gain access to the company’s VPN.
But ransomware attacks can exploit more than simply passwords. Ransomware attacks are often promulgated through phishing schemes — emails asking unsuspecting employees to input compromising information.
Some analyses have suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic has directly led to an increase in the amount of phishing attempts, sometimes using the pandemic itself to exploit the employee.
Ransomware can also be promulgated through software that has not been updated to the latest version, and thus has weaker protections.
Another popular avenue for ransomware is software. Ransomware attackers will put software online that poses as being from a legitimate source. The software is, of course, a virus, which takes over the employee’s computer.
Challenges for Information Security
One of the primary challenges for internet security is the safeguarding of secure passwords. It’s hard to ensure that employees will always make secure passwords or that a password will not be obtained through brute force attempts.
Cloud apps are also a vulnerable point for internet security. According to a recent analysis, cloud apps are targeted in 43% of internet security incidents.
One of the foremost challenges for internet security is that human beings are human beings. They make mistakes. They click on links that they shouldn’t. They visit sites they shouldn’t.
When dealing with humans, there is always the risk of a ransomware or other cyber attack.
Priorities for Information Security
Cyber security is a new field.
Don’t feel bad if your company is behind on the latest cyber security technology. Many companies are.
But there are several areas in which companies must get better to stop ransomware attacks. Many of these can be accomplished through the work of competent IT workers.
Priority One: Heightened Monitoring of Employees
One of the primary challenges for internet security is that it’s hard to monitor employees. You never know whether they are going to click on a link that they ought not to.
Employees are also prone to bring their own devices to work. These devices can pose an unnecessary risk to the entire system’s integrity. Companies are unable to regulate personal devices as thoroughly as work devices.
Perhaps it is time to prevent employees from bringing their own devices to work, or at least, from connecting them to the company’s system.
Thus, it is essential to give employees the proper training that they need to combat phishing schemes and prevent unnecessary risks to security.
Train your employees to spot and avoid phishing schemes. Train them to be wary of suspicious emails and not to trust unverified software. It will benefit your company greatly.
Of course, don’t expect that training your employees to not click on suspicious emails will solve the problem of ransomware on its own. It won’t.
But, in conjunction with other solutions, it can do much to cut off the entrance point for ransomware attackers.
Priority Two: Prevention of Ransomware Attacks
Because the malware used in ransomware attacks usually works in a matter of seconds, preventing the malware from spreading once it has already begun is borderline impossible.
Still, cyber attacks can be prevented in a variety of ways. First, IT can make sure that software updates and patches are always installed on the systems that use the company’s internet.
Second, they can be prevented through the technology that you use. Through professional app development by people who understand internet security, you can reduce the risk of a ransomware incident.
Consider building an email-scanning system that can automatically detect (and perhaps remove) malware. This goes a long way toward preventing ransomware from ever being clicked in the first place.
Priority Three: Internet Monitoring and Protection
By monitoring the internet through web filtering applications, you can make sure that employees never download that malware in the first place. These applications work by preventing users from visiting suspicious websites.
These applications can also block malicious advertisements, which could be the source of malware.
In addition to this, certain technologies can isolate internet browsing to secure servers, away from the computers themselves. This makes sure that if malware is downloaded, it is not downloaded onto the computer itself.
Priority Four: Creating Backups
Ransomware attacks work by encrypting your data so that you can’t access it. If you always create backups of your files and important data, you can restore it from the last good backup.
Of course, there are ways for the cyber attacker to find and destroy (or disable) this data, but there are also ways to ensure that it is protected.
This strikes at the very core of the ransomware scheme: they can’t hold your information hostage if you have a useable backup of the information in the first place.
After you have restored your system, you can go after the cyber attackers, tracing where the attack came from and informing law enforcement about the breach.
Priority Five: Investigating the Breach
One of the most important aspects of cybersecurity is what happens after a breach. Once law enforcement or the company has settled the payment, the company should investigate the situation.
Why did the breach occur? How did it get through the existing cybersecurity protections? You must answer these questions before you move on from a ransomware attack.
Unless companies actively investigate breaches after they happen, other companies won’t be able to prevent them before they happen.
Cyber attackers are constantly changing their methods, adapting to new cybersecurity measures and looking for loopholes in them.
When they find a new loophole, we need to be sure to close it as soon as possible. This is only possible through investigation.
Priority Six: A Culture of Cybersecurity
Companies must actively adopt cybersecurity infrastructure. Although this may seem obvious, it isn’t. Many companies have been slow to adopt cybersecurity measures that would greatly improve their chances against ransomware schemes.
It’s always important to stay on the cutting-edge of cybersecurity. After all, the people who are attempting to exploit the vulnerabilities in your system are always innovating. So must you.
It’s very important to make sure that you are hiring the best IT, developing the best applications, and training your employees well. If you cannot do these things yourself, consider hiring out some of those tasks.
Cyber Security Affects us All
Cyber security is important, not just for your business, but for the community. Everyone is affected when businesses fall victim to ransomware schemes, and so it’s in everyone’s interest to prevent them.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. If you want to learn more about the priorities for internet security in a post-COVID-19 world, check out our recent panel discussion: Information Security in a Post-Covid19 World.