How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks: Everything You Should Know About This Malware on the Rise

Ransomware illustration showing a lock and chain.This year, fans of the rapper Megan Thee Stallion declared that it was a “hot girl summer,” a pop culture concept/meme that shares a name with one of her songs. However, The New York Times has a different description for the warmest months of 2019: “the summer of crippling ransomware attacks.”

These cyberattacks have hit numerous cities and towns, with more than 40 municipalities victimized this year, according to the Times. Big cities like Baltimore and small towns like Lake City, Fla. alike have dealt with hackers hijacking their computer systems and data. School districts have gotten hit by ransomware recently as well, according to Ars Technica.

This particular variety of cybercrime is also a growing threat to private companies, with a staggering 365 percent increase in business detections of ransomware from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of this year, according to research from Malwarebytes.

IBM X-Force Incident Response and Intelligence Services (IRIS) have also noted that destructive cyberattacks are on the rise, according to the article “From State-Sponsored Attacks to Common Cybercriminals: Destructive Attacks on the Rise” from SecurityIntelligence, an informational site focused on cybersecurity and sponsored by IBM.

The article states that in comparing the first half of 2019 to the second half of 2018, the X-Force IRIS team observed a 200 percent increase in the number of destructive attacks they helped companies handle.

As cybercriminals become more aggressive, business leaders must invest more than ever in proactive IT security strategies and ensure they stay informed about these constantly evolving threats to their companies. Here’s everything you should know about ransomware right now to keep your organization as safe as possible.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a kind of malware that infects IT environments and then encrypts the victim’s files, according to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The attackers then demand payment (the ransom) in exchange for the decryption key.

This kind of malware can be extremely costly for victims. For example, Lake City paid a ransom of approximately $460,000 in Bitcoin to get the town’s data decrypted, the Times reported. The municipality estimated that rebuilding its computer systems would have come at an even higher price.

How long has ransomware been a problem?

This malware variant has been wreaking havoc for over a decade. The CSO article “The history of ransomware” describes it as “the most pervasive cyber threat since 2005.”

It gained notoriety in 2017 in particular due to the worldwide impact of the variants WannaCry and NotPetya, according to the ZDNet article “Cybercrime: Ransomware attacks have more than doubled this year.

How can I prevent ransomware attacks?

There are various steps you can take to avoid becoming the victim of a ransomware attack.

  1. Don’t click on suspicious email attachments or links in “phishy” messages. Phishing, or sending out emails that spoof legitimate correspondence, is a common method for spreading ransomware, according to the CISA.
  2. Back up your data. Frequently backing up your data and testing those backups will allow you to restore your systems without having to pay the ransom if you get hit by ransomware. This is just one of many reasons that you should have backup, business continuity and disaster recovery solutions in place.
  3. Patch and update everything regularly. This will take care of any vulnerabilities that hackers could potentially exploit, according to Cisco.
  4. Educate your end users on best security practices. Many cybersecurity incidents stem from human error. Ensure that everyone in your organization takes precautions and can spot scams (e.g., phishing emails), Cisco advises.

What should I do if I get infected by ransomware?

Preventing ransomware from ever infecting your IT environment in the first place is the ideal scenario. However, if you do end up getting hit by this nasty malware variant, you should follow this procedure, according to Kaspersky.

  1. Don’t pay the ransom. You have no guarantee that the cybercriminals will release your data, and giving in only encourages this kind of cybercrime.
  2. Isolate the infected device. Disconnect it from all networks and the internet.
  3. Remove the ransomware. This usually involves running security software and a decryption tool, as well as restoring your data from backups.

If you’d like more information, check out this blog entry on what to do if you get hit by ransomware. A cybersecurity services and solutions provider like Stratosphere can also assist and advise your organization on how to prevent ransomware attacks.

Ultimately, the best way to reduce your odds of becoming a victim of ransomware or any other kind of malware or cyberattack is to maintain a comprehensive, multi-layered cybersecurity strategy. Hackers won’t stop trying to access sensitive data anytime soon, so it’s vital that you employ a proactive approach to cybersecurity.

Our team of experts can assist you by helping you assess your current IT security level and create a roadmap for the future. We work with a wide range of security solutions from various vendors in our extensive partner network, so we can provide valuable insight into the market and identify which offerings are the best fit for your organization.

Don’t wait until you’ve already experienced a breach to get serious about cybersecurity. Take the first step toward better IT security today: Sign up for a security assessment by filling out this form on our site, calling 877-599-3999 or emailing sales@stratospherenetworks.com.

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