A third of SMEs 'oblivious to existence of ransomware'

ACCORDING to anti-virus company AVG, a third of small to medium sized businesses had never heard of the term 'ransomware', demonstrating the need to educate our local businesses urgently, on one of the fastest growing categories of cyber security.

Ransomware is one of the fastest growing cyber security risks, from the family of what's known as Malware (that's short for malicious software, any software used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, gain access to private computer systems, or display unwanted advertising).

Even though the actual percentage terms of 68 look good, it's somewhat alarming and the security industry, media and local government departments, need to do more to highlight the significant dangers it possess to Irish companies.

Ransomware is a generic term for a category of malware that restricts access to a device or the file(s) on a device until a ransom is paid. It's a method for criminals to make money, by infecting the device, and has become very effective at causing havoc for a business or organisation that is unfortunate enough to become a victim.

The biggest concern is that this type of malicious attach is not new. 2005 was the year businesses first experienced attacks in the form of fake anti-virus software, popping up and claiming that you had issues that required payment, in order to be fixed.

As some businesses and individuals became aware of these threats, ransomware morphed into 'scareware'. Now threatening messages were sent out to develop fears, and trick users into thinking they had to download (malicious) software from legitimate statutory agencies, typically claiming that a PC or device had been infected or a computer had showed up illegal activity. In some cases the device was locked, until a payment had been released - as a ransom!

Seemingly many of the companies that were quick to admit they had heard of the term, when questioned, were unable to explain the term in a reasonable and acceptable level of detail.

The name often given to this particular nasty and common form of ransomware is 'Cryptolocker', and first reared its head in 2013, with disastrous effects. Ransomware has now become a major issue around the world. In some cases, thousands of dollars have been paid out. No company or organisation is excluded or safe from attack, including hospitals, charities, even hairdressers. One university in the US has been attacked 21 times in a single year.

It's difficult to measure the true scale of the problem because most companies and organisations are reluctant to reveal they've been attacked and held to ransom. Unsuspecting victims are infected through emails, impersonating as someone they are not, or from an organisation they are not. It only takes one click to activate an attack which encrypts files, and demands money to be electronically paid, usually within a short time frame of 48 or 72 hours.

Last year alone the FBI received 2,453 complaints about ransomware, costing the victims more than $24 million dollars. Earlier this year the UK's National Crime Agency claimed ransomware attacks have increased in frequency and complexity, and now include public threats by the perpetrators, to publish victim data online, as well as the permanent encryption of valuable data.

So how do you best do you try and help of your business or organisation not being a victim?

Firstly, never open an email or any other attachment that you are sent, from someone you didn't expect to get one from, or an attachment you didn't ask for or expect. If in any doubt at all – lift the phone and call that person and delete it. You can always ask for it to be resent, if it is genuine.

It's really important to keep your software and operating systems updated. Attach the utmost importance to your back-ups, and constantly check they have no error messages.

Make sure you're using the latest version of your antivirus software and download regular updates when they become available.

Finally, if you do fall victim to infection, don't pay. Funding these criminals will only encourage them to attack others. Research the specific infection to see if there is a decryption tool.

:: Trevor Bingham (editorial@ is business relationship manager at ItFuel in Craigavon. Follow them on Twitter @itfuel.

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