If you are a fan of the HBO series, Game of Thrones (and even if you are not), you have heard or seen shirts and memes with “Winter is Coming” everywhere over the past several years. In the show, this was the imminent war of wars to come through and bring multiple kingdoms to their knees after years of warnings and signs of the destruction to come.  Similarly, cyber-attacks are on the rise and is actually not “fake news” in the media. This digital crime wave is very real and occurring all day every day to companies young and old, big or small, and should be taken very seriously.

You may have heard in recent news that ransomware attacks have wreaked havoc across the US, targeting everything from pipelines to major US websites.  According to US Government sources, things are, unfortunately, expected to get worse, and the US government is strongly advising companies to ramp up security.

Since a major US pipeline company was hacked into and ransomware was successful in extracting several millions of dollars from them, the floodgates have seemingly swung wide open for hackers to target other US companies with impunity.  The successful hack by a group called DarkSide laid to bare just how susceptible US companies and other commercial entities are to this type of attack.  Now, US Government officials are warning that an onslaught of new attacks is underway as they coin this a new form of cyber warfare.

Hacking groups that are able to operate freely in certain parts of the world are turning their focus more on private industries within the US, spurred on by the previous successful attacks on commercial entities. Smaller entities, however, still must be cautious as recovery from such attacks is commonly much more disastrous than with a larger organization.

How to Defend Your Company from Ransomware

Ransomware attacks may not seem as destructive as the media is making it out to be. I mean, what’s the big deal if you inadvertently click on the wrong link and your computer ends up locked up, right? If you have anti-virus software running, that should stop everything, shouldn’t it? Isn’t my IT company supposed to have the power to stop any actions that my team or I make that could breach our system?

A ransomware infection doesn’t typically happen immediately, like a spam pop-up, or other types of malicious software.  Hackers will often wait and bide their time after successfully breaking into a computer.  They look for weak points in a company’s IT security, and then exploit those weak points to burrow deeper into a company’s network.  After they find a valuable or vulnerable enough target, and maybe gain enough access to computers within the network, they may proceed to deploy ransomware to the affected computers.

Preventing ransomware starts with educating your team about how hackers can gain access to their computers without their knowledge and infect other systems.  When it comes to IT security, you really are only as strong as your weakest link.

Many cybercriminals will use social engineering methods to attempt to trick users into letting them into their computers.  They may send an email to someone in the organization disguised as a legitimate source, hoping that they will follow whatever instructions given in said email.

Browsing websites that may have been arbitrarily hosting malicious content could also infect a computer leaving it exposed for hackers to use to deploy ransomware as well.  Hackers can also exploit unpatched vulnerabilities in workstations or online devices that may be within the company network.  Phishing emails, however, tend to be one of the favored ways that cybercriminals use to gain access to a user’s computer.

To prevent ransomware infections, it’s important that employees are able to identify tell-tale signs of phishing emails.  Phishing emails will often disguise the sender’s address to look like someone from the company sent the email and will, often times, try to portray some sense of urgency to try to get the victim to act without thinking first.

Team members at your office should always be aware of hidden links within an email’s message body and hover over them with the mouse cursor in order to reveal where the link is going without actually activating the bad link.  You can also reveal the full message headers of emails so you can see the sender’s full email address.  If a phishing email is suspected, the recipient should alert their IT person or managed IT services company and mark the email as spam.

It’s also important to ensure that security vulnerabilities are patched throughout the network.  Any devices that touch your network should be kept up-to-date.  This includes simple IoT devices like smart thermostats, for example, all the way up to your company’s firewall and Network Attached Storage (aka NAS) devices.  Any device that interacts with your network could potentially be exploited and used to deploy ransomware.

Working with a managed IT services provider, like Natural Networks, can provide you with some peace of mind.  Partnering with IT experts who can manage and monitor your computers 24 hours a day can help keep ransomware at bay.  If you’re interested in learning more about how managed IT services can help protect your companies IT, give us a call today!