Ransomware has existed for decades, but the cyber security community has never seen ransomware threats proliferate as quickly as they are now. The ever-increasing amount of personal information, financial information, and intellectual property being stored online has made ransomware far more profitable and attractive for malicious users, leading them to develop advanced and sophisticated techniques. This post will explain what Ransomware is, who it targets, and how it can harm your business.
How Does Modern Ransomware Operate?
Ransomware used to be fairly simplistic: a malicious program would lock a computer and its data until money was sent to an address, usually another country or a post office box. An unlock code would then be given to the target and they would be able to use their device again. Until then, the device would be "bricked" -- unusable. But that was when devices themselves had all of the power; today, it's data. Modern ransomware operates by locking away and encrypting an organization or individual’s information and only unlocking it once money (often in a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin) is transferred to the malicious party.
Who Is Usually Targeted by Ransomware?
Business owners who require access to their data are the most often targeted by ransomware. Though ransomware used to be a primarily consumer-level exploit -- today it often targets smartphones -- criminals have shifted towards small businesses and data-oriented enterprises. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable because they often have critical data assets but have not invested in the technology required to secure them. But larger enterprises may also fall prey to ransomware, especially if they are in an industry known to require access to information for day-to-day operations, such as the finance industry.
What Are the Consequences of Ransomware?
Whether or not the ransom is paid, the direst consequence of ransomware is usually business interruption. While the data is encrypted, the business can't complete its operations. The ransom itself is often secondary to the losses that the business will experience during this time. If the business neither pays the ransom nor has timely backups, the company can lose its data. Depending on the business, this can be enough to render the entire organization inoperable.
Organizations can often protect themselves from the threat of ransomware by encrypting their data themselves and maintaining secured backups. Ransomware can be safely ignored if the threat is nullified; encrypting data means that the cyber criminals will not be able to use it, and having timely backups means that the organization will not need their data back. In the case of ransomware, proactive prevention is undeniably the best defense. Ransomware isn't the only major cyber security threat today, and many of them can have their damages mitigated through the use of conscientious and secured backups.