The issues of cybersecurity and ransomware tend to have a lifecycle that resembles income taxes and college basketball. Periodically, there is a tremendous amount of interest in these issues, endless articles, podcasts, and live news updates cover breaking developments, and then just as quickly the entire conversation recedes to the background. That said, cybersecurity and ransomware are not issues that can be effectively managed with only periodic attention, as the WannaCry ransomware attacks clearly illustrate.
Starting Friday, May 12th, and continuing as businesses opened around the globe on Monday the 15th, hundreds of thousands of individuals and organizations were effectively locked out of their own information. Victims ranged from health networks in the U.K. to businesses across the globe, and the various causes of blame were assigned almost as quickly as the attacks themselves began.
With various actors, including but not limited to the White House, Microsoft, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, weighing in on these attacks, there are a lot of conflicting stories, panels, and information out there on ransomware. What I am trying to do, and focusing on what information will be of most help to you and your business, is summarize the three most important issues on every businessperson's mind. What exactly is ransomware, and how do you protect your business and data?
1. What is Ransomware?
Ransomware, to put it simply, is the end result of several other events that might impact your business. First, your computer is infected with a malicious program (virus), which embeds itself in your business information. Second, the virus starts to encrypt your information so that you are unable to access it. Third, and where the ransom aspect comes in, is when you are contacted by the hackers demanding payment for the return of access to your data. Usually payable in in a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, many business owners find themselves having to fork over payments just to get their own information restored.
2. How do I protect myself?
With all of the various coverage and analysis going on in the media about hacking, possibly state sponsored cyber attacks, and complex algorithms, it might seem impossible for any small to medium size organization to protect themselves. That could not be further from the truth, however, and there are steps you can take today to help keep your business, and information, safer. First, keep your antivirus up to date -- sounds simple but is often ignored advice. Second, download operating system security patches, like the one Microsoft has been rolling out since these attacks started. Third, do not, and make sure your employees understand this as well, open links or attachments for unknown senders -- this is one of the most common ways viruses get a foot in the door of your business.
3. Keep your data secure
Data security sounds like a complicated topic, but it does not have to be! Backing up your data regularly, and ensuring your passwords to access critical information are changed regularly are simple steps that you can do today. The scariest part of ransomware is that not only are the hackers encrypting your information and keeping it from you, but that you do not have any other way to get it back besides to pay up. By backing up your information and keeping it secure, you rob the hackers of this leverage.
Cloud computing, cyber security, and the specter of hacking attacks are not issues to be taken lightly, especially as more and more business is done virtually. The current headlines are certainly disturbing, and have undoubtedly caused many business and entrepreneurs to take action. That said, the most important part for you and your business is to realize what the issues are, and what you can do, starting today, to keep yourself from joining the list of victims