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What is ransomware?

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Chances are you’ll have heard of ransomware. It regularly appears in the news due to high profile security breaches. But do you actually know what it is and what it does? 

A dangerous kind of malware designed to bring in major profits for cybercriminals, ransomware encrypts files on infected computers, demanding a large ransom in return for making files accessible again.

While ransomware-like programs have been around for decades, they’ve really come to the fore more recently. This is mainly due to the rise of Bitcoin and various other cryptocurrencies which allow for completely anonymous electronic transactions – meaning thieves can’t be tracked down.

Usually entering systems through falsely labelled files (.doc files with harmful macros, spoofed emails and far more), ransomware encrypts the majority of files it can reach, making them completely unreadable. A huge problem for businesses, the inconvenience this encryption causes can be even more damaging than the ransom fee itself.

Ways to counter ransomware

There’s a few different ways to protect your organisation against ransomware. From the outset, it is important to realise that the weakest link in cybersecurity is almost always a person. Most ransomware-spreading files are disguised in emails appearing useful, leading to people inadvertently contracting the malware. It is important to make sure that those in your organisation have the cybersecurity training they need to recognise false files – it may even be worth running a fake phishing operation to make sure the information has sunk in.

Implementing a comprehensive firewall solution is an absolute must. Whilst they aren’t completely infallible they will provide a protective layer around your network and help block unauthorised access attempts. Content filtering systems can also help, providing an extra layer of security, blocking downloads of certain file types and cutting off access to notably dangerous pages. 

In the unfortunate event you do end up being affected by ransomware, it is imperative you already have a plan in place to ensure a swift recovery and to also negate the need to pay a ransom to have the stolen data returned. 

A key failsafe is to perform regular backups. There’s not always a way to get rid of the malware there and then, so restoring from an external backup is usually the most effective course of action. The options available are cloud-based and physical hard drive solutions, which when combined provide an all-encompassing solution and it goes without saying that having multiple backups is always better than relying on just one.

For more detailed information, take at look at our blog: ‘How to protect your school from ransomware attacks‘.

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