Beware of Ransomeware

Last month, one of the largest Ransomware cyberattacks ever launched swept across the globe. The folks behind the attacks seized personal information about millions of people, held that information hostage, and compromised thousands of business and government networks. Fortunately, here in the United States, the fallout was less severe – but that’s largely because sometimes we actually do learn from our past mistakes.

So, what is Ransomware and is it really a threat to small businesses?

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack in which the attacker gains access to a network, targets personal and sensitive data, and scrambles the data or locks authorized users out. The attacker then demands a ransom by a certain date in exchange for restored access, under the threat of permanent deletion. Last month’s attack used a new kind of Ransomware called WannaCry, which is based on espionage tools created by the NSA and leaked on the Internet.

And yes, it is really a threat to small businesses.  In fact, it is a huge threat!  Hackers frequently test their programs on less suspecting and less protected systems.  And no, having a Mac does not make you safe.

What does all this mean for you?

You may think you’re of no interest to a hacker, but the truth is your network is a goldmine of contact, location, financial, healthcare and personal identity information.  You regularly collect this data from clients, business partners, acquaintances and employees. And if your network doesn’t store this information directly, rest assured that your clients’ and partners’ and prospects’ networks do. Additionally, this can be especially dangerous if you’ve ever done or attempt to do business with the government. Your network can become a cyber attacker’s gateway.

How can you protect yourself from Ransomware?

  1. Do not open vague, unusual, or odd emails. More importantly, don’t open the links or files in those emails – even if you think the email is from someone you know.
    1. If an email comes from someone you know, but the subject line seems off, contact the person to verify that they sent it.
    2. If the email comes from someone or a company that you are familiar with, but the email address is off, delete the message immediately. If they really are stuck in some remote country and need money, they will send you another message.
    3. If you don’t know the sender and the subject seems odd or vague, simply hit delete.
  2. Turn off your auto-download settings.
    1. If your email automatically downloads attachments, you’re putting your entire network at risk.
  3. Install all system updates as soon as possible.
    1. WannaCry ransomware was able to infiltrate networks in May of this year via a hole in Microsoft security that the company had already repaired back in March 2017. People who did not install that update were sitting ducks.
    2. Dispel the belief that having a Mac makes you safe. There are simply more people around the world using Microsoft operating systems than there are using Mac’s IO system.  The attackers however, are targeting both platforms.
  4. Use complex passwords and change them often – but keep track of them.
    1. Please don’t save a list of your passwords on your computer, cell phone or on a post-it note on your desk! At Impact, we like LastPass for this. However, with this program you must remember at least one password.
  5. Keep your defenses up.
    1. Stay up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software and invest in a program or firm that will monitor your security. At Impact, we recommend WebRoot anti-virus and internet security software for small business protection.  Webroot’s customer services stinks, but the product works well. We won’t disparage others, but we don’t recommend any of them.  They have all failed us in the past. Ransomware developers use these programs too.
  6. Back-up your data, and keep copies both on your network and off your network.
    1. Be sure to keep on backup server disconnected from your network. Viruses travel through networked drives.  Yes, that includes paths that allow you to network to your Dropbox or other cloud-based storage spaces.  If you can easily get there, so can a virus.
    2. Impact uses Box to store files in the cloud, Dropbox to store images and videos and in the cloud, and Carbonite to backup its files in the cloud. None of these cloud-based locations are directly mapped to our computers.
  7. Create a cyber incident action plan before you need one.
    1. Consider how will you notify your clients, partners and employees in the event your network is compromised by a ransomware attack or other digital crisis.
    2. Create a plan within 30-days of reading this post!!!
  8. If you think you have been a victim of an attack, breathe and then isolate the problem.
    1. Take a moment to breathe, cry, scream or run around the block. Then take immediate action!
    2. Isolate infected files if possible.
    3. Remove infected computers from the rest of the network, if possible.
    4. Scan and scrub your computer and entire network.
    5. Consider reporting the attack to the FBI and contact your FBI field office for advice on cyber crime.
    6. Go to step 6 and restore your files! Remember, I said breathe 😊.


Your Marketing Mama

Cheryl McCants, Impact Consulting Enterprises president

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