If it seems like you’ve been reading cyber-attack headline after cyber-attack headline, it’s probably because you have. The current rash of ransom attacks has been devastating and it’s only getting worse. In fact, cyberattacks are said to be the fastest growing crime globally—they are increasing in size, sophistication, and cost. And cybercriminal activity is likely one of the biggest challenges the world will face in the coming years. What makes it worse is that attackers will target anyone, including large corporations, SMBs, Non-Profits, Healthcare entities, and even local and federal governments.
There was an interesting article in the LA Times about how the City of Azusa Police Department was the victim of a ransomware attack a few months ago. They refused to pay the ransom and hundreds of highly sensitive files were posted on the dark web—as of last weekend that page has been visited more than 11,000 times! And Azusa is just one of several government agencies targeted in this year’s wave of ransomware attacks. The Illinois attorney general’s office and the Police Department in Presque Isle, Maine, were hacked this spring. A group called Babuk hacked personnel records and other material from the Washington D.C. police department demanding a $4-million ransom. A ransomware attack in early 2020 on the New Orleans city government cost the city upwards of $7 million! This list goes on and on.
So, what is Ransomware exactly?
Simply put, ransomware is a type of malicious software used to block you from accessing your own data until a ransom is paid. The ransomware encrypts your files and/or system for which only the cybercriminal(s) holds the decryption key. If the ransom demands are not met within the timeframe, your encrypted data remains unavailable and is then often shared or sold on the dark web. The costs can range from a few hundred dollars to millions and while some industries are more vulnerable than others, cybercriminals will attack anyone and any business
Ransomware can be traced back to 1989 when ransom and decryption keys were exchanged via “snail mail”. But attackers have grown creative over the years now requiring payments that are nearly impossible to trace—and the growth of cryptocurrency has only fueled the fire for ransomware. Ransomware has also evolved on the technical side. Where you could once use regular system backups as a defense, you can do so no longer as ransomware is now designed to infiltrate your network and your backups—attackers can now encrypt your backups.
And if encryption of your data wasn’t scary enough… cybercriminals have found that they can add an increased level to their ransomware attack…extortion! So now in conjunction with the decryption key ransom, they also threaten to sell or publicly release your data if you don’t pay the ransom. Ransomware attacks with an extortion component have soared in popularity since they first emerged in late 2019. A recent study by Coveware found that 77% of ransomware attacks involve a threat to leak exfiltrated data.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has described ransomware as a new business model for cybercrime, and a global phenomenon. Ransomware damage costs are predicted to be 57 times more in 2021 than they were in 2015, which makes ransomware the fastest growing type of cybercrime.
Ransomware attacks can impact an organization in many ways—from minor disruptions in operations to major financial losses. Consequences of the attack can continue to impact your business for weeks, months, or even longer. Examples where your business may suffer:
- Financial losses: Ransomware damage costs will rise to $20 billion in 2021 and a business will fall victim to a ransomware attack every 11 seconds at that time. (Cybersecurity Ventures)
- Loss of productivity: The average downtime due to a ransomware attack was 21 days in Q4 of 2020 (Coveware)
- Reputation damage: Cybercrimes are vastly undercounted because they aren’t reported — due to embarrassment, fear of reputational harm, and the notion that law enforcement can’t help (amongst other reasons). The unit chief at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) stated that the number of reported cybercrimes in the agency’s reports only represent 10 to 12 percent of the total number actually committed in the U.S. each year.
- Legal liability: The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published an advisory to alert the public that the payment of ransom demanded by cyber criminals may be a violation of US law. They warned that individuals or businesses that help facilitate ransomware payments may be violating anti-money laundering and sanctions regulations.
- Business continuity problems: 60 percent of small companies that suffer a cyberattack are out of business within six months, according to the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance.
How do you prevent a ransomware attack?
Ransomware doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and is ever evolving. No person or business is off limits. Cybercriminals will go after anyone, but especially those that house valuable data, i.e. government entities. In short, ransomware is a potential nightmare for any unprepared businesses—so make sure you are prepared and ready to fight back against any cybercriminal that tries to hurt your organization.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
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Apex Technology Management is the trusted partner of cities and businesses throughout California. As industry leaders in Cybersecurity, we know how critical it is to be able to easily identify how vulnerable your organization may be to cyber-attacks. Our team of IT and Cybersecurity experts are prepared to help you understand where your risks are and build an action plan letting you focus on what’s important, your business.
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