Time to review your IT infrastructure and be vigilant

Ransomware is now a mature threat to businesses and consumers - and the number one threat to organisations as well as the tool of choice for cyber criminals

Ransomware has become the threat-of-the-day for most enterprise organisations, as they struggle to keep up with the rapidly changing threat landscape and barrage of attacks from money-hungry cyber criminals and hackers.

IT managers and their departments or in the case of many Irish companies, the IT person (quite often the company accountant in an SME) are left feeling like they're stuck in a giant revolving door that rotates between states of secure and insecure in their environments.

It (the ransomware) sneaks past existing defences like secure email gateways and desktop anti-virus with ease, then tricks users into running its viral payload themselves for that added killer punch. Unfortunately, all we can do is learn to be constantly vigilant, stay agile and make sure we don't sit back and hope for the best or think it will never happen to us.

Ransomware, or crypto-malware as it's sometimes known, was said to be ‘invented' by Dr. J L Popp back in 1989. Dr. Popp was in fact an evolutionary biologist, who thought he would increase his notoriety at the World Health Organization AIDS conference in that year, by distributing malware infected diskettes to delegates, in the hope they'd stump up $189 to have their computer repaired.

Since those unlikely beginnings, ransomware has come a long way. It's now a fully grown, mature threat to businesses and consumers alike. It's become so successful that ransomware is currently the number one threat to organisations, as well as the tool of choice for cyber criminals looking to earn money from a cyber crime spree.

Ransomware is a type of malware, or computer virus, and is designed to extort money from its victims by either locking their computer to make it inaccessible, or more commonly encrypting some or all of the files. The emergence of anonymous e-currencies like “BitCoin” have been credited with the success of ransomware, as they allow the effective gathering of money with no paper-trail.

Ransomware is also learning to infect more and more types of devices with Windows users no longer the only ones affected. The “we don't get viruses” Mac brigade are also starting to be impacted and are looking a little less smug. Rather annoyingly, it's not just PCs and Macs at risk. Other devices like Android smartphones are also targets now too, as are Smart TVs.

The key to the success of ransomware is its reliance on the human element of computing, by which I mean the fallibility of the person between the chair and the keyboard. It usually take the form of a very well worded email with an attachment. A fake invoice is a great example of this. The email will detail the background to the attachment, encouraging the reader to open the file.

Ransomware attacks can strike any type of business, in fact smaller organisations are usually less well protected or have fewer IT resources than their larger counterparts. The impact is often greater in smaller businesses too, as the IT infrastructure plays a vital role in the day-to-day running of the operation.

So please don't think it won't happen to you, as it could and you don't want to be finding out the hard way that you're not prepared for the aftermath of the attack.

Ransomware isn't a problem that looks like it'll fade away any time soon, in fact all of the signs are pointing to an escalation in capability and effectiveness of the threat. There's no need to worry excessively about ransomware, but it should focus your attention on technologies that perhaps haven't been refreshed or reviewed for a while, including your backup and Disaster Recovery provision.

With the latest software patches applied, your protection or security software constantly updated and all your staff developing an investigative, vigilant mind, common sense will prevail and for the time being, we'll all get on with running our business successfully.

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


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