Ransomware: How to Protect Your Business From Attack

Ransomware is one of the most dangerous of all the malicious programs on the internet.

The FBI describes ransomware as “a type of malicious software or malware that prevents you from accessing your computer files, systems or networks and demands you pay a ransom for their return.” In other words, ransomware is a form of cyber theft in which criminals use malware to access your systems, steal or encrypt your data, and then demand payment in exchange for returning control of your information. Unfortunately, ransomware is becoming more common (and dangerous), resulting in millions in yearly damages.

According to IBM, data breaches resulting from ransomware cost businesses an average of $4.54 million. Additionally, the same study reports the number of ransomware-related breaches grew 41% in the last year and took 49 days longer to identify and contain than other malicious programs.

To make matters worse, Sophos surveyed 5,600 IT professionals from small, medium, and large organizations for its 2022 State of Ransomware report and discovered that 66% of respondents were affected by ransomware last year, up from 37% in 2020.

Ransomware poses a significant threat to businesses, especially as more workflows and operations become digitized. No one is entirely safe; without the right measures, you could become a victim of cybercrime. Below, we will explore what ransomware is, how it affects businesses, prominent threats to watch for in 2023, and how to protect your business from attack.

What is Ransomware?

Cybercriminals specializing in ransomware use prominent hacking techniques, such as phishing, malicious advertisements, or scare tactics, to steal and encrypt data so you can no longer access critical documents and information. Others will lock you out of your systems and networks, so you cannot continue operations until you regain access. In both cases, the criminal will demand a ransom to return control of your assets.

The cost of ransomware attacks is rising, with many organizations paying hundreds of thousands or millions to regain access to their systems and information. Unfortunately, while the FBI advises against paying ransom demands, it can be tempting to give in, especially when operations are halted, and essential information is inaccessible. However, it is important to remember that your systems may not be restored even if you do pay. Some criminals will simply take your money and leave you to deal with the fallout. Hence the need to protect your business against ransomware in the first place.

How Does Ransomware Get into Systems?

Cybercriminals use various methods to hack into systems, including:

  • Phishing: A phishing scheme involves sending an email or message with a malicious link or attachment with the hopes that an employee will inadvertently click on it and give the sender access to their systems. Phishing messages often use social engineering or scare tactics and may include a false signature line from a person in their company (such as a manager).
  • Spear Phishing: Similar to regular phishing, spear phishing is more personalized and will target a smaller, more focused group of individuals. For instance, instead of sending a broad email to an entire company, a criminal may send a highly personalized message to the finance team requesting that they download an attachment for an upcoming project. Spear phishing requires in-depth knowledge of your teams and operations. Meaning, a hacker must conduct extensive research to make the message appear more authentic.
  • Malicious Ads or Websites: Many advertisements and websites are embedded with malicious code designed to access computer systems when triggered. In many cases, a user doesn’t even have to click anything. They can accidentally provide back-door access to a cybercriminal by simply visiting an untrustworthy website.
  • Insider Threats: While we like to think the best of everyone, sometimes employees don’t have the company’s best interests in mind. Sometimes hackers gain access to company systems from employees who are either disgruntled and purposely sabotage systems or are uncaring and are not mindful of best practices.

The increase in remote and hybrid workforces has made it easier for cybercriminals to access SMB and Enterprise systems. Unfortunately, ransomware can get into your business systems from anywhere, including computers, mobile devices, and internet of things (IoT) systems. Even Macs are not immune to attack as they once were thought to be.

A lack of robust safeguards and procedures (such as VPN usage, stout password protection, and multi-factor authentication) leaves your systems open to attack.

What Trends Are We Seeing in Ransomware?

Ransomware systems and cybercriminal organizations come and go. There are always new and emerging threats to be aware of and guard your systems against. Some of the most prominent cybercriminal groups are:

  • LockBit
  • BianLian
  • DON#T
  • IceFire
  • Vice Society

Ransomware itself comes in all shapes and sizes. For instance, Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is becoming more popular among cybercriminal organizations. With this structure, criminals can pay a fee to ransomware organizations to carry out attacks against businesses and individuals.

Other types of ransomware and ransomware scams include:

Screen Lockers: As the name implies, these ransomware programs access your computer or network and lock your screen so you cannot access your operating system. The program will then demand payment to unlock the screen.

Scareware: Scareware is less harmful than the other types of ransomware on this list. Scareware involves rogue security software or tech support scams that get into your computer systems and bombard you with pop-ups. Thankfully, the pop-ups are usually relatively harmless unless you fall for their trap.

Encrypting Ransomware: This type of ransomware steals your files and encrypts them. When you fall victim to this type of malicious software, you won’t be able to gain access to your data again until you make the requested payment. However, it is important to remember that even if you do pay, there is no guarantee that the cybercriminal will unencrypt your files.

Double Extortion: This is a style of extortion in which a cybercriminal uses ransomware to steal and encrypt your files while simultaneously threatening to share or sell sensitive information if you do not provide payment.

How to Protect Your Systems Against Ransomware

Ransomware schemes cost companies millions of dollars each year. Cybercriminals don’t just target enterprise-level organizations—they also go after individuals and small and medium-sized businesses.

To protect your systems against ransomware, be sure to:

  • Educate employees on cybersecurity best practices, including what they should look for in a phishing scheme or untrustworthy website, how to report an incident, and the steps required to protect their accounts and devices.
  • Keep systems up to date with the most current version of your browser, operating system, and software.
  • Utilize protection programs such as VPNs and Endpoint Detection and Response solutions.
  • Promote good password habits and the use of multi-factor authentication.
  • Make secure backups of all critical documents and data. These backups should be separate from your core infrastructure to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Have a robust response plan, including details about how you will respond to an incident and who will be in charge of your response efforts.
  • Work with a security-managed services partner for regular risk assessments, 24/7 monitoring, and ongoing support.

With the risk of attack on the rise, it is more important than ever to ensure your systems are protected. To learn more about ransomware and how to protect your business, contact our team of professionals to schedule a consultation.

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. In addition, this publication may contain certain content generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) language model. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

About the Author