Our online world is increasingly merging with our physical world. The internet offers us a place to shop, pay bills, run a business, meet new friends, and unfortunately, we can also be exposed to criminal threats. The Sony Hack is just one recent (and highly publicized) example of a malicious criminal threat that businesses can face when interacting and engaging online – which if you want your business to survive, is a non-negotiable in contemporary society. But don’t be misled by the larger-than-life nature of these big company cyber-attacks; when it comes to these type of malware hacks, small businesses are the favored target.
Why are small businesses preferred by cyber criminals? Because in contrast, enterprise and large businesses are typically bulked up with software security, and thereby less vulnerable to attack. A recent trend in malware attacks is ransomware –where the criminals hide behind automated bots that encrypt your valuable business data and require a paid amount (or ransom) to be made before they release your files. Last year, a strain of ransomware given the title of “CryptoWall” infected nearly 625,000 systems, encrypting more than 5.2 billion files in five months’ time. Ransoms to regain possession of stolen files ranged from $200 to $2,000. One victim even reportedly paid $10,000 to have their files released. During this CryptoWall attack, “1,683 victims (0.27%) paid the ransom, for a total take of $1,101,900 over the course of six months” (PC World).
This type of cyber-attack often comes through the form of a “Trojan horse,” meaning it’s embedded into something you would open without second thought, like an email. It’s most often distributed through “spam campaigns, compromised websites, malicious ads, or other malware.” In these spam emails, an attachment is usually infected, and the message entices recipients to download the attachment by claiming it is an “invoice, undelivered package notice, or an incoming fax report.” In November, a Tennessee sheriff fell victim to a Trojan horse attack and had to pay 500 bitcoins to cyber criminals.
As ransomware becomes increasingly threatening, a sure-fire solution has yet to be developed to ensure safety, or even reverse the effects of attack without succumbing to paying up. To protect yourself from these attacks, Peter S. Vogel of The Ecommerce Times recommends the following precautions:
1 – Do not click on anything you do not inherently know is from a trusted person or site. Don’t go to websites you are unsure of, and do not download anything that looks remotely suspicious or out-of-the-blue.
2 – Download or purchase software programs and apps to protect all of your devices – including smartphones and tablets. Do the regular updates and installs from trusted security companies – every time. If you suspect any one of your devices has been infected, do not connect it to any other device (i.e. if you think your smartphone has been compromised, don’t plug it into your computer).
3 – Back up your data, always. Save valuable data to the cloud or a portable hard drive (although be aware of the risks involved with free cloud storage).
Though cyber-crime is becoming increasingly prevalent, there is no need to panic. Practice caution by backing up your information and storing data – especially any customer information – in a safe place. Have you ever faced one of these malware attacks? How did you fight back against it, or were you prepared? Let us know, and we can share your tips in a follow up article.
Sources: “Trojan.Cryptowall.” Symantec. N.p., 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 07 Jan. 2015.
Vogel, Peter S. “Yikes! Ransomware Could Take Over Your Hard Drive.” Yikes! Ransomware Could Take Over Your Hard Drive. ECT News Network, 5 Jan. 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2015.