Managed IT

Top 5 SMB Tips on How to Prevent Ransomware

Top 5 SMB Tips on How to Prevent Ransomware

by Todd Stanton - November 24, 2015

Ransomware is a vicious type of computer virus that first reared its ugly head in April 2014. It infects individual and business computers, encrypts all files on them and then holds them for ransom until the victim pays for a key to unlock the files. The payment is usually demanded in the digital currency Bitcoin because it easy to use online, it is publicly available, and it protects the criminals’ anonymity. Bitcoin must be purchased with the victim’s real money (ransoms range from $200 to over $10,000), and there is no guarantee that the cyber-kidnappers will keep their word and decrypt the hijacked systems.

An alert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) warns that CryptoWall, a current version of an earlier ransomware named CryptoLocker, is the most current and significant ransomware threat in the United States. Ransomware encryption is practically impossible to break, so the only alternative after infection in many cases is to pay the ransom and hope the crooks keep their word. Therefore, preventing a ransomware infection is vital, especially for small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) with limited IT resources. In this post, I've summarized the top five tips that the FBI and independent security firms recommend on how to prevent infections of ransomware.

Read on to learn more about each of these top five tips to help SMBs prevent ransomware:

  1. Antivirus software and firewall
  2. Updates
  3. Verification
  4. Backups
  5. Popup blockers

1. Use Antivirus Software and a Firewall

Have up to date security software and a firewall installed throughout your network. There are thousands of new malware variants appearing every day, having a set of old virus definitions is almost as bad has having no protection. According to security firm Kaspersky Labs, over 200,000 malicious programs appear daily. 

It is recommended to use a next-generation firewall with website filtering, an intrusion detection system (IDS) and an intrusion prevention system (IPS). It is vital to continually maintain both the firewall and antivirus software with automatic updates.

Lately, SMBs without dedicated IT departments are often the targets of ransomware attacks because hackers assume that they not as tech savvy as large enterprises. Additionally, many SMBs have high value proprietary data that crooks crave. Partnering with a trusted managed services provider (MSP) provides a major defense against ransomware and other types of malware.

2. Regularly Update Everything

Make sure all the software on your system is up to date, including the operating system (OS), the browser and all of the plug-ins that it uses. One of the most common infection vectors is a malicious exploit that leverages a software vulnerability. Enable automated patches for the OS and the Web browser, which can help in avoiding suspicious (phony) websites, which are often used as a ploy to get unsuspecting victims to click phony links that then download ransomware.

3. Don’t Trust, Do Verify

Be skeptical all the time when online, either when surfing the Internet or when reading email. Never open attachments in unsolicited emails, even if they come from someone in your contact list. Even treat attachments from known sources with suspicion until they have been scanned for viruses. Data hijackers are getting very good at impersonating legitimate known sources, so consider all links and attachments in any email toxic until proven otherwise.

And never download pirated online material. This has become a prime hunting ground for cyber thieves of all kinds, but particularly for ransomware extortionists. Ransomware has been sent via free software, downloadable games, file-sharing programs and customized toolbars.

backup-data.png4. Backup All Your Data

Although this won’t prevent a ransomware infection, it can mitigate the impact if the virus gets through your system. If your files are backed up properly and maintained remotely, either in a cloud or disk-based system, ransomware scams will lose some of their threat. Instead of paying a ransom to get your data unencrypted, you will be able to simply have your system wiped clean, and then you can reload your files.

RELATED: Be Prepared: Avoid Data Disasters with Backup and Disaster Recovery Planning

5. Enable Popup Blockers

Popup ads have been a boon to online marketing, unfortunately they have all too often been co-opted by cyber criminals as a method to deliver many types of malicious software, including ransomware. Many people are now aware of this, but just to be safe and to avoid accidentally clicking on any popup it is a recommended best practice to prevent them from appearing at all.

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