Chances are you’re familiar with ransomware, a type of malware that infiltrates desktops, servers, smartphones, or wearable devices and can hold an entire organizations’ data hostage — from contracts to work products to customer information to financial information and everything in between. While these types of attacks initially gained popularity in Russia, ransomware scams have rapidly expanded to become a threat at the global scale. According to the FBI, for instance, over $209 million in ransomware payments were paid in the United States in the first three months of 2016 alone — up from $25 million for the entirety of 2015. And because data encryption methods are only getting more and more sophisticated, you can be sure that ransomware attacks will only continue to grow.
A common misconception about these types of attacks is that they only affect huge corporations with highly confidential, sought-after data, but don’t be fooled! Ransomware is a lucrative criminal activity that does not discriminate, and can affect any business of any size. A report by the Cyber Threat Alliance estimated over $325 million in damage to businesses in 2015, and this analysis was based on only a single particular strain of malware. The reality is that no organization or individual is guaranteed to be immune to ransomware attacks. When it comes to businesses, the penalties are severe: lost data, time, productivity, and money.
Large corporations have the resources to create comprehensive security protocols to prevent these kinds of incidents, but if you’re a small- or medium-sized business (SMB), it can be incredibly costly to achieve the same level of protection. One cost-effective way for SMBs to effectively protect themselves is fortunately emerging: IT as a Service (ITaaS). There are a number of best practices you should follow in order to decrease the likelihood of a ransomware attack, and ITaaS encompasses them all.
ITaaS allows for a multi-layered approach to security that includes preventative measures, real-time remote monitoring, and sophisticated backup and disaster recovery to minimize the time-and-money impact on the business. Prevention starts at the level of the user by ensuring adequate training. Your employees should be educated about identifying suspicious messages, and how to proceed if they’re not confident in their assessment. To this end, a one-time training session is not enough; it’s important to review and refresh user knowledge at regular intervals. Once per quarter or twice per year is a good start.
The next component to consider is spam and virus filtering for both inbound and outbound risks. ITaaS solutions will generally come standard with anti-spam and anti-malware software that not only capture suspicious content, but help you stay on top of attack trends. The best approach is a package that scans both user desktops and the mail server in real-time. You can reduce the risk of unwittingly introducing a threat to your IT environment by stopping harmful emails before they hit user inboxes.
A gateway anti-virus solution is also essential for scanning incoming network packets. ITaaS makes it easy to have multiple firewalls in your data center for maximum protection. In addition, outdated applications represent another crucial vulnerability, and manually patching a full roster of applications — from Microsoft Word to Adobe reader — can be tedious. ITaaS takes all of the manual labor out of maintaining your applications with automatic upgrades and updates.
The other benefit to using ITaaS platforms is remote monitoring and management. Real-time monitoring means that you can be alerted to any suspicious or harmful activity as soon as it happens. This is critical for instances in which your preventative measures have failed to block all threats, so you can intervene as rapidly as possible to prevent the issue from escalating further.
Of course, despite implementing preventative measures, your organization may still fall victim to ransomware. If this is the case, then a recent backup is your best fortification against critical data loss. It’s critically important to have frequent, regular backups to minimize data loss and maximize business continuity, and ITaaS will allow you to do this easily and automatically. And you won’t just need to restore files, but entire user environments; all current versions of Windows Server operating systems, for example, come with a feature called Volume Shadow Copies, which enables you to restore previous versions.
If you’re attacked and have no backup available, then unfortunately your only option to recover the data is to pay the ransom and hope for the best. Don’t be surprised, however, if you pay the cyber criminal and he or she still refuses to return your data; this is all too common.
It’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the security of your organization, and nowadays with the availability of cloud-enabled solutions like ITaaS, there’s simply no excuse. Don’t be caught unprepared — make sure you future is fortified against ransomware and other types of malware attacks.