How to Respond to and Protect Your Business from Ransomware

The incidents of ransomware in Canada are rising at an alarming rate. In 2015, Canadians were affected by 1,600 ransomware attacks a day. By September 2016, the number of attacks nearly doubled, and those are only the known cases. Unfortunately, many incidents still go unreported. Businesses of all sizes have become targets of ransomware, as it can infect not only personal computers, but also entire networks and servers.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malicious software that infects a computer and denies access to the system or data, and demands a sum of money to restore the information. Presently, the most common forms of ransomware will encrypt data.

Victims often receive an onscreen alert stating their files have been encrypted or a similar message, depending on the type of ransomware. The message on the lock screen may even claim to come from the federal government, accusing the user of violating a law and demanding a fine.

Organizations are then prompted to pay a ransom to unlock their computer systems or gain access to critical documents. Typically, the hackers behind the ransomware demand bitcoin—a type of digital currency that is difficult for police to trace.

How Ransomware Can Spread

There are different ways that ransomware can spread, including the following:

  • Visiting fake or unsafe websites
  • Opening emails or email attachments from unknown sources
  • Clicking on suspicious links in emails or on social media

How to Respond

Some operating systems provide instructions for responding to lock-screen ransomware, although results aren’t guaranteed. In contrast, encryption ransomware has no quick fix without an encryption key, which only the hackers typically have access to.

Regardless of the type of ransomware, experts recommend against paying the ransom. After all, there is no guarantee that you will regain access to your computer, network or files after you pay. Furthermore, by paying the ransom, you could be encouraging future cyber crimes.

If your business is affected by ransomware, take the following steps:

  • Do not do anything further on your computer systems. If possible, consult your IT department or an IT professional for assistance.
  • Immediately contact the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre (CCIRC) to report the incident. The CCIRC can assist your business to mitigate further damage.
  • Open a criminal investigation into the matter by reporting the incident to your local police force or jurisdiction, and inform the CCIRC that you have done so.
  • Report the incident to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre.
  • Contact your insurance broker to discuss next steps from an insurance perspective.

What to Do if You’ve Already Paid the Ransom

Since business can come to a halt without access to essential data, business owners are often tempted to pay the ransom in order to quickly regain access. If you’ve paid the ransom, contact your bank and call the authorities as soon as possible. Credit card companies may be able to block the transaction and refund you if you contact them promptly.

How to Protect Your Business

Cyber extortion from ransomware is a legitimate threat to all businesses—no matter the size. The best method of prevention is to keep confidential information and important files securely backed up in a remote location that is not connected to your main network.

In addition to backing up your files, taking the following prevention measures can help keep your information secure and prevent you from becoming a victim of cyber attacks:

  • Teach your employees about ransomware and the importance of preventing it.
  • Instruct employees never to click on links or open attachments in emails sent by a party they do not know.
  • Show your employees how to detect suspicious emails and attachments. For example, tell them to watch for bad spelling or unusual symbols in email addresses.
  • Develop a protocol for reporting incidents of ransomware and other suspicious cyber activity.
  • Develop a schedule for regularly backing up sensitive business files.
  • Update your company software as soon as new updates are released. In doing so, you can patch the security vulnerabilities that cyber criminals rely on, and avoid becoming an easy target.
  • Purchase cyber liability insurance that not only helps you respond to threats, but can also help cover the cost of the ransom and any other losses incurred as a result of cyber extortion.

Don’t let ransomware—or any type of cyber exposure—threaten your business. Contact your insurance broker to ensure you have the proper coverage and the tools necessary to protect against losses from cyber attacks.

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