Real Talk on Ransomware

Ransomware Feature

How do you know a once-niche topic has broken through to the mainstream? When late-night TV hosts start talking about it, injecting a little humor into a formerly staid conversation.

On a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight,” HBO host John Oliver brought his signature mix of scathing wit and detailed reporting to the topic of ransomware, which has lately affected everyone from oil pipeline operators to suburban grandmothers, city governments to hospital systems, and school districts to police departments.

Oliver’s 22-minute segment* did an admirable job digging deep into ransomware—“one of the more damaging things the Internet has enabled.” TV news clips and first-person interviews outlined the definition, process, and protocol surrounding ransomware attacks, from point of infection via illicit emails, to panic over encryption once files are completely locked up, to resignation about the response required to unlock the data and reinstate access to it.

Scariest of all were the statistics compiled by Oliver and his team: the amount of ransom paid in 2020 quadrupled compared to 2019, from $85 million to $350 million—but even that is considered an understatement since many companies don’t publicly reveal when or how much they pay. According to** there were 127 newly discovered ransomware families worldwide in 2020.

Also in 2020, more than 500 healthcare facilities were hit with ransomware—one Vermont hospital even had to turn away cancer patients looking for treatment after access to their medical records was lost. One industry estimate even says that 85% of hospitals don’t have a qualified cybersecurity employee on staff, highlighting the critical need for trusted IT services that can protect small to medium-sized businesses across all industries. And the pace of ransomware is not expected to slow any time soon. In fact, the total cost of ransomware is estimated at $20 billion in 2021.***

Why is this kind of protection so important?

As Oliver said, “The costs of ransomware keep getting higher, while the barrier to entry for hackers keeps getting lower.” He attributes this spike in ransomware activity to three things:

1) The easy availability of ransomware as a service, where hackers develop the actual product but then sell it to anyone who might want to launch an attack.

2) The rise of cryptocurrencies, which makes it easy for hackers to demand payment in forms like Bitcoin that are difficult for law enforcement to track, and

3) The safe haven provided by countries like Russia in exchange for hackers only targeting companies or individuals outside of the host country’s borders.

But just when you think the situation looks hopeless, Oliver delivers the hint of optimism that late-night TV viewers have to expect. “Last Week Tonight’s” three recommendations for getting a handle on the ransomware problem align perfectly with the advice CMIT Solutions gives its business clients across North America:

1) Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA or MFA) on all devices and accounts, preventing hackers from using stolen or weak passwords to infiltrate accounts. 2FA or MFA adds an extra step to the login process, requiring users to enter something they know (a standard password) AND something they have (a unique code delivered via text or email) before they can access a device or account.

2) Keep computers up to date with security patches and software updates. These are often rolled out specifically to address vulnerabilities that allow hackers to easily infiltrate systems. The challenge is making sure they’re deployed automatically (so that they can strengthen cybersecurity immediately) and in the background (so that they don’t distract from day-to-day operations or disrupt regular workflows).

3) Never click links or attachments in suspicious emails. Endless variations of these kinds of scams exist, from fake shipping notifications to spoofed customer service requests. The common thread is that they always urge users to download a file or visit a website, often deploying malicious code or rerouting traffic to a malicious site once that action is taken. Although this step seems obvious, it’s often the biggest point of weakness—all it takes is one accidental click to encrypt the data of an entire network, office, or company.

That’s why CMIT Solutions adds a critical fourth step to this list:

4) Regular, remote, redundant data backup. Ideally, your business information should be automatically backed up every day, securely transmitted from company computers to remote physical and cloud-based locations, and stored in multiple locations to minimize the threat of data failure. Once that process is established, the next step is testing the accessibility of those backups so that data recovery procedures can be implemented if a ransomware attack does occur.

Often, this is the only layer of security that can eliminate the need to pay a ransom if your information is encrypted. As cybersecurity experts remind us, paying a ransom only enables hackers to commit more crimes.

Plenty of other tactics can strengthen the cybersecurity situation of your business—DNS filtering, email sandboxing, traffic analysis, and incident response among them. But the four basics above are a great place to start, for businesses of all sizes operating in all industries. As John Oliver said at the end of his segment, “It is in everyone’s interest to get this ransomware problem under control.”

At CMIT Solutions, we help companies across North America understand the threat of ransomware, mitigate the negative impacts of cyberattacks, and respond proactively to prevent future infections. Instead of waiting around to see whether things will get worse, we work 24/7/365 to protect our clients while helping them survive and thrive in a challenging digital environment.

Want to safeguard your most important information and maintain normal day-to-day operations while guarding against ransomware attacks? Contact CMIT Solutions today.

Note: John Oliver, Home Box Office, Inc., and each of their affiliated entities are not affiliated with and do not endorse or sponsor this communication or CMIT Solutions.
Warning: Some content, including language and references, may not be appropriate for all viewers.

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