“The threat is real. The threat is upon us. The risk is to all of us.” These are words from the United States Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, speaking at an online webinar series. His words of advice were, “Inform oneself. Educate oneself and defend oneself.”

Mayorkas was talking about the threat of ransomware attacks, which have grown from being a cybersecurity worry for individuals to a real threat that is impacting everything from government institutes to businesses, small and large. Ransomware attacks are a cybersecurity threat that involves malware that encrypts a victim’s computer and locks them out of their system and files while demanding a ransom amount to give control back. 

According to one projection, malware infections resulting in ransomware attacks are expected to be a $20 billion headache by the end of 2021! And small businesses are at the receiving end of most ransomware attacks since 43% of all cyberattacks impact smaller establishments, which often do not have the resources to wade off sophisticated cyber threats. And that leads us to the following questions:

Why do small to medium businesses fall prey to ransomware attacks?

1. Lack of awareness about digital threats

Perhaps the single biggest reason SMB businesses and establishments fall victim to cyber threats such as ransomware attacks is that they do not recognize the risk. While cyber-attacks on big name brands and businesses make all the news, attacks on more minor victims do not make the same noise and thus go unnoticed by the public. This results in a false sense of security and mindset among business owners that such attacks only impact larger, more affluent enterprise organizations. But in reality, every business is at risk.

2. Lack of knowledge about malware and phishing attacks

Most ransomware attacks victims are not hit by sophisticated cyber attacks but by simple social engineering techniques such as phishing. For example, an attack may involve a malicious email disguised as a genuine one, with a link that can compromise your system resulting in data breaches and ransomware attacks.

Many smaller establishments and businesses often lack the know-how to recognize phishing attacks, which in turn are getting more complex by the day, making them harder to spot.

3. Unwillingness to spend on cybersecurity protection

Many small to medium businesses underestimate the financial threat posed by ransomware attacks. They also often think it is not worth spending the money on cybersecurity protection in the form of anti-malware and anti-virus software or penetration testing. The truth is, money spent on cybersecurity protection is an investment that could pay off in the long run and could even save a small to medium business from collapsing due to a cyber attack.

4. Lack of preventive measures increase the threat of ransomware attacks 

You may be surprised to know that simple preventive measures can often keep ransomware attacks at bay. For instance, one should always be wary of unknown emails and only click on trusted and verified links. Another simple yet effective security measure businesses can take to stave off ransomware attacks is maintaining regular backups of your data.

Malware that leads to ransomware attacks works by locking the user out of their files and folders. However, when data backups are created in external drives that are not connected to the main computer at the time of the attack,  ransomware victims have the option to simply ignore the attack and format their computer since all of their data is stored externally.

Unfortunately, many establishments and business owners do not follow data backup practices, which could arguably be the single biggest weapon against ransomware attacks. 

Measures small to medium businesses can take to safeguard against ransomware attacks.

  1. As stated in the beginning, acknowledging the problem and educating oneself is the first step towards prevention. This basic preliminary measure can give you the basic knowledge to recognize and avoid traps that result in ransomware attacks.
  2. Training is the next step. Once you educate yourself, make sure your employees also learn the basic precautionary skills necessary to keep away from social engineering techniques.
  3. Keep your operating system, applications and security software updated to the latest version. If you can, make sure automatic security updates are enabled.
  4. Keep your data backed up in a drive that is both offline and not connected to any of your computers other than when backing up.
  5. If you ever feel your computer has been compromised, disconnect all devices immediately. Since the ransomware malware takes some time to encrypt all your files, disconnecting may save some files from getting locked.
  6. Seek professional help to recognize and patch any security vulnerabilities.

At Packetlabs, we understand the repercussions of ransomware attacks, especially to small and medium businesses. Our ethical hacking services are specifically designed to replicate actual security hacks and recognize potential weaknesses in your systems and applications and help you patch them. You can request a free quote on our services, and our representatives will get in touch with you within 48 hours.