In the last few months, three cities in Florida have all paid extremely high ransoms to obtain decryption keys from their hackers. These ransoms ranged from USD 400,000-600,000.
In each case, the ransomware infection was preventable.
In each case, an employee clicked on a questionable link or downloaded a file in an email without verifying the origin.
U.S. Cities Aren’t the Only Targets for Ransomware
The University of Calgary paid a CAD 20,000 ransom after being attacked in 2016. In 2017 a major Canadian firm (that remained anonymous) paid over CAD 400,000 to decrypt files following a ransomware attack. Last year, two Ontario municipalities, Wasaga Beach and Midland, were victims of ransomware attacks. And just last month, the Mayor of Stratford, Ontario said, “Canadian municipalities are ‘sitting ducks’ for cyber terrorists,” after being targeted by an online ransomware attack.
No one is immune. But there is much that can be done to avoid falling victim to cybercrime.
STOP Clicking Links in Email
Email does not have to be the weak link in your security, but for many organizations – not just city governments – it is certainly the easiest point of access for hackers. All it takes is convincing one person to believe a message is real, move their mouse two inches, and click to release catastrophe. And even with so much more information available, so much urging from the cybersecurity community to employ zero trust, employees continue to click on links that are potentially deceitful.
STOP Downloading Files Sent by Email
In the case of one Florida city, an employee at the police department downloaded a file sent in an email that carried the Emotet trojan. It so crippled their systems that they were forced to issue paper citations for traffic violations; payroll direct deposit was impacted, and checks had to be issued on paper and handwritten.
STOP Paying Ransoms
Paying a ransom only motivates cybercriminals to continue because there is a payoff. The more that municipalities, colleges, and businesses give in to paying ransoms, the more likely it is that there will be more attacks – and the attacks are getting more sophisticated and complex. Hackers are taking more time to infiltrate systems, they are taking their time to launch attacks, and they use readily available information to more effectively trick email recipients into believing the emails are legitimate.
Train Your Employees
To thwart hackers and prevent ransomware from proliferating, we all need to change our tactics. We need to be more aggressive in training employees, more suspicious of every email, and less trusting that any link or attachment is safe. Ongoing training is essential to help employees recognize phishing attempts and email threats.
Heightened Vigilance Is Good but Not Enough
According to a report from StorageCraft, not all ransomware comes from email. Ransomware viruses can infect legitimate websites. Trend Micro reported that big sites such as msn.com, nytimes.com, aol.com, realtor.com, and newsweek.com were victims of attacks that attempted to download Cryptolocker ransomware and malware onto users’ computers. Even when your email security is at its best, there is still a risk.
Protect Your Data
If the worst happens and your IT infrastructure is infected with malware or ransomware and hackers demand a ransom, there is one way you can avoid paying: protect your data with regular, offsite backups, virtual machine backup and replication, and disaster recovery protection. Business continuity should not come with a $600,000 price tag in the form of a ransom. You can invest far less in comprehensive disaster recovery protection with your managed services provider and have peace of mind that even if a ransomware attack were to strike your organization, you could tell hackers NO when they demand a ransom.
Business continuity and disaster recovery planning is critical to all businesses, no matter their size. Every organization faces the real possibility of a catastrophic event that could compromise its data integrity and threaten its very existence. The ITeam provides essential IT support to businesses in Alberta. We provide fully managed and personalized services designed to meet the needs of virtually any business. Our team will work with you to customize a cost-effective solution and help you develop a comprehensive IT security strategy that will help you survive any threat, whether natural or human-caused. Get in touch.