Ransomware attacks are increasing at an exponential rate and have continued to be a disruptive force in the world of cybersecurity. According to Cognyte’s Cyber Threat Intelligence Research Group, the number of ransomware attacks nearly doubled in the first half of 2021. Compared to 1,112 ransomware attacks for the entire year of 2020, 1,097 organisations were hit by ransomware attacks from January to June of 2021.
The three leading causes of ransomware infection are phishing emails, poor user practices and lack of cybersecurity training. All of which can be prevented with proper cybersecurity awareness, knowledge and training.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware that employs encryption to a victim’s files and data unless a ransom is paid. Ransomware can infect businesses from large enterprises to SMEs including manufacturing, financial services, transportation, technology, legal and human resources, healthcare industry and more. It can spread to a system quickly, inflicting businesses within minutes. This can wreak havoc on an organisation’s productivity and can result in serious consequences such as data breaches.
No one is safe from ransomware attacks. As long as you have data kept in your system that you can’t afford to lose, you can be an appealing target for cybercriminals.
How Ransomware Works
In most cases, ransomware attacks occur in the form of a phishing attack where the attacker sends an email with a malicious link or attachment to the victim. Once the victim clicks the link or attachment, the malicious content will then initiate an attack.
Ransomware uses asymmetric encryption, cryptography that involves two distinct, yet related keys: A public key that is used for encryption and the private key that is used for decryption. The attacker makes the private key accessible to the victim only after the ransom is paid.
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks
No one in this world actually knows how to avoid ransomware attacks altogether. If there’s a solution to these threats, Travelex and the University of California at San Francisco would have never caved in and paid the biggest ransoms of all time.
Despite this, there are still a lot of ways organisations can do to prevent attacks and mitigate the effects of ransomware.
1. Train users to detect ransomware
While user training cannot guarantee security against ransomware attacks, it can greatly reduce infection risk. In most cases, ransomware starts with a malicious email. Users who are trained to identify phishing emails and social engineering can easily tell whether or not an email is from a legitimate company. Thus, these people are less likely to open an infected link or attachment and fall victim to cybercrime.
2. Always have backups
The single, most efficient way to recover from a ransomware attack is to restore your data from a backup. Regularly backing up your best defence in case ransomware is inflicted on your system. With backups, you can easily restore the stolen data from a different source other than the encrypted files.
You can store a copy of your data in the cloud such as in Google Drive or Dropbox to protect them from ransomware and other cybersecurity threats. While this may not keep the infection away, it can definitely make the damage significantly less as you can regain access to your files without the need to pay the ransom.
3. Protect personal information
Humans easily trust other humans. While trust is an essential part of people’s lives that allows us to live and work together, it is also one of the causes why attackers make us believe they are legitimate and get us to reveal our personal information such as our passwords.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your business from possible attacks is to avoid disclosing sensitive information. If you receive an email asking for your personal data, do not engage. Most cybercriminals who are planning a ransomware attack might try to gather these details which they can use to create tailored phishing emails to make their message more reliable.
4. Keep your systems up-to-date
Make sure that your organisation’s operating systems, applications and software are up-to-date. Regularly updating your systems will close all security gaps that cybercriminals are looking to exploit.
Additionally, make sure that you have the latest patch installed. Latest security patches make it easier for your anti-malware to recognise newer threats. Thus, making it harder for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities in your systems.
5. Avoid clicking unfamiliar links and attachments
Another essential step to prevent ransomware is by being vigilant about clicking unfamiliar links and attachments. Spam emails are one of the most common methods that attackers use. These emails contain malicious links or attachments that can instantly download ransomware to your computer.
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