How to make your business cybersecure: defend against ransomware
By Laura Dugan ’03
The internet is a wonderful tool for gaining access to information, conducting business, and generally making lives easier. Most people cannot imagine their lives without the constant access to which they have become accustomed.
The problem: a tool that can be used for so much good can also be used for malicious purposes. It can be difficult for one person to protect their information and identity online. For businesses, protecting employees, data, and systems can be an astronomical task, especially as threats to security are ever changing.
One growing risk is ransomware, malicious software, often referred to as “ransomware binaries”, that ultimately “kidnaps” your information and puts it on lockdown until payment is made to restore access. Basically, hackers force you into paying them to get back data that is yours.
In a white paper released in 2016, leading cybersecurity company McAfee stated, “By combining capabilities such as more powerful asymmetric encryption methods and using the new cyber currency of Bitcoin as payment, ransomware started to really take off.”
While forms of ransomware have been around since the mid-1990s, the number of attacks is growing exponentially. McAfee Labs tracked under 400,000 unique ransomware binaries in each quarter of 2013 compared to between nearly 800,000 and over 1.2 million in each of the four quarters of 2015.
McAfee lists two primary causes for this jump. “Ransomware authors figured out how to make it ridiculously easy to get involved in the ransomware food chain; and ransomware authors have made it harder to detect ransomware binaries,” states the white paper.
With so many ransomware attacks, how can systems be kept secure? Overall, it’s important to be proactive and adopt strategies that stop the attack before it can even begin. McAfee offers several techniques to fight ransomware.
Prevent the receipt of ransomware.
Implement security software and keep it up to date.This includes ensuring all systems have security software installed and making sure that software is updated regularly. Make sure that your operating systems are up to date. Security patches are often released that help to cast a wide net against potential ransomware attacks.
Educate employees on proper security techniques, and as a backup, include security software that automatically scans all attachments for potential malware. Also implement spam and web gateway filtering for an extra level of security.
Minimize the impact of ransomware.
Disable macros as these are a frequently used method to infect computers with ransomware. Minimize the number of employees with administrator privileges and limit software install rights. Write rules to mitigate targeted file extensions and to block malicious domains within the firewall.
McAfee adds, “For those with proxy and gateway appliances, these technologies can be configured to scan for known ransomware to control server traffic and block it. Most ransomware cannot continue operations if it cannot retrieve the public encryption key needed for asymmetric encryption.”
Back up your data through external resources, such as external hard drives or cloud systems, and limit local file sharing to prevent the spread of ransomware.
The threat of ransomware and other malicious software is real, but by staying aware of potential security risks and planning in advance, you can keep the risk of an attack at a minimum.
Read the full McAfee white paperfor more information.Cybersecurity