While there are conflicting reports on whether ransomware attacks are on the rise or in decline in the UK in 2018, there is a consensus among tech experts that cyber-criminals are changing their tactics and getting smarter, as firms become better at defending themselves.
So, while the number of attacks may arguably be going down, the level of targeting and sophistication is steadily increasing. There are several ways in which ransomware can infect your computer network. One of the most common entry points is via a phishing email, where the malicious software (malware) is hidden in a hyperlink or a file attachment.
Don't be reeled in by a 'phishing' scam
The phishing email’s sole purpose is to persuade the unsuspecting recipient to download an attachment, click on a hyperlink or hand over personal details or other sensitive data to gain access to a computer. Once ransomware gets into that computer’s network it typically encrypts files or locks computer screens until the ransom is paid. There is no guarantee, of course, that the attackers will unlock your computer system once you’ve met their ransom demands. They are criminals, after all.
Spot the fake
It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to spot the difference between phishing scams and legitimate emails, as recent attacks on PayPal and Google demonstrate. Confronted with this evolving threat, employees have become the frontline in an on-going battle with cyber-criminals, so reducing their vulnerability to phishing emails must be a priority. This is where training and awareness are crucial to mitigate these online threats.
Are you in a cyber-criminal's crosshairs?
Manufacturers, hospitals, government agencies, legal firms, charities and schools are particularly susceptible to a ransomware attack, especially if they hold sensitive personal information that hackers can encrypt to extort money. These organisations also tend to have smaller IT security teams and a varied user base (such as homeworkers, contractors, etc) where a lot of file-sharing may take place, making it easier for hackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the organisation’s defences. And even if you don’t fall into this category, you may still fall victim to a ransomware attack, as in the case of Wannacry, which in 2017 spread rapidly and indiscriminately across the internet, infecting around 200,000 computers globally.
How to prevent ransomware
There are defensive steps you can take to prevent ransomware infection:
- Keep your operating system patched and up to date, to ensure you have fewer vulnerabilities to exploit.
- Don't install software or give it administrative privileges unless you know exactly what it is and what it does.
- Install antivirus software, which detects malicious programs like ransomware as they arrive, and whitelisting software, which prevents unauthorized applications from executing in the first place.
- Provide your employees with cyber-security training to help them recognise the signs of a cyber-attack and avoid phishing email scams.
- Get comprehensive cyber-insurance to ensure that your organisation has the means to recover from a cyber-attack.
- And, of course, back up your files, frequently and automatically! That won't stop a malware attack, but it can make the damage caused by one much less significant.
How CLEAR can help
Our cyber-insurance specialists can work with you to design a risk management programme to provide protection for your organisation. For more information on how we can help, contact your nearest CLEAR office:
London: 020 7280 3450
Cranleigh: 01483 274792
Leamington: 01926 420 555
Spalding: 01775 716570