The recent increase in ransomware attacks has Internet users on their toes. These malicious software programs encrypt a victim’s files, holding them hostage until a ransom is paid. Both individuals and businesses have fallen prey to these attacks, leading to significant financial and data losses. But why are these attacks becoming more frequent, and how can you shield yourself from them?
Why the surge in ransomware attacks?
As with all Internet scams, the main motivation behind ransomware is extracting lucrative payments. But, several recent developments have made these operations even more profitable and easier to execute. The two main ones are:
1. Expanding attack surface
Most modern businesses cannot function without the Internet and IoT devices. Even a small local pet shop will have some form of online system to track payments, handle invoices, etc. With that, there is more opportunity than ever for bad guys to exploit vulnerabilities.
Due to the sensitivity of encrypted data, victims are willing to pay large sums to regain access. So, if you couple the expanding attack surface with a significant financial incentive, cybercriminals have no reason not to engage in ransomware operations.
2. Cryptocurrency makes it easier to receive payments
Another relatively recent development is the popularization of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Although it’s not 100% of the time, these currencies can provide attackers with a means of receiving payments anonymously. This makes it difficult for authorities to trace and apprehend them.
Aside from the payment part, the entire ransomware attack process has gotten easier. Ready-made ransomware kits are available on the dark web, allowing even those with limited technical knowledge to launch attacks.
How to protect against ransomware?
While most ransomware headlines involve large companies, it’s not true that hackers wouldn’t target SMBs or even individuals. You’re a target as long as you have data that can be exploited. So, it’s best to take things into your own hands and enhance your ransomware resilience. Here are some quick and effective tips to get started:
Use a VPN to mask your online activity
Encryption is key to keeping your data and communication channels protected from outside threats. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your Internet connection, making it harder for hackers to intercept and access your data. Especially when using public Wi-Fi networks, a VPN is essential to ensure your online activities remain private and secure.
Ransomware operators will only have the upper hand if you are desperate to retrieve the data they’ve encrypted. That’s why it’s important to regularly back up all essential data. Backups should be stored in a location not connected to your main network, such as an external hard drive or a cloud service with strong encryption. This way, if you’re hit with ransomware, you can restore your data without paying the ransom.
Update and Patch Regularly
Cybercriminals often exploit known vulnerabilities in software. In turn, software developers regularly release patches to address these vulnerabilities and protect their user base. Keeping your operating system, software, and applications updated reduces the risk of an attack.
Educate and train
For businesses, it’s crucial to provide employees with regular training on cybersecurity best practices. Many ransomware attacks begin with a simple phishing email. If employees can recognize and report these threats, it can prevent potential breaches. Always be cautious when opening emails from unknown senders or clicking on unfamiliar links. If something seems off, it’s better to be safe and avoid it.
Adopt secure password-sharing apps
Sharing passwords via email or text can expose sensitive information to potential threats. Instead, use secure password-sharing apps that encrypt your passwords and allow you to share access without revealing the password.
The rise in ransomware attacks is a pressing concern. However, individuals and businesses can significantly reduce their risk by understanding the reasons behind this surge and taking proactive measures.