In May 2021, ransomware hit headlines again. In one of the biggest ransomware attacks of the year, Colonial Pipeline, a fuel distribution company in the US, had its systems breached by cyber criminals. The attack caused havoc not only for the company itself, but also led to panic among consumers who feared a fuel shortage. The firm eventually agreed to pay off the attackers, transferring them $4.4 million (£3.36 million) in cryptocurrency.

This was just one of the biggest and best publicised ransomware attacks of 2021. Indeed, according to an IBM study, the number of ransomware attacks rose by 50% last year, with the average cost per breach reaching $4.24 million (£3.24 million)

These figures are shocking, and further reinforce just how important it is to prepare for the ransomware threat. While it is impossible to completely avoid the risk of ransomware, there are several things you can do to minimise the danger you face.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a kind of malware which infects computer systems and prevents users from accessing their files. This technology uses asymmetric encryption, so that only the attacker has the keys to decrypt the files. Once a ransomware attack has been launched, a message will usually appear on the desktop of the infected computers demanding a payment – typically in Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency. Ransomware usually comes with a threat: if a payment isn’t made within a day or two, the files will either be deleted, or private information will be shared online,

Ransomware usually enters a company’s systems through a phishing campaign. Once an employee clicks on a dodgy link, the malware is downloaded onto their device. It can then rapidly progress to other devices across your systems and seek out potentially sensitive files to encrypt.

7 ways to manage the ransomware risk

Ransomware is inherently unpredictable, and it only takes one employee to click on one risky link for your systems to become infected. Nevertheless, there are several things you can do to manage this risk and reduce your chances of getting attacked.

Here are seven ways to manage the ransomware risk:

      1. Assume you will be attacked
        When it comes to cyber security, for most organisations it is a question of when they’ll be attacked, not if. Ransomware, just like other cyber security threats, is likely to affect your organisation at some point. By assuming you will be attacked one day, you can begin to prepare your strategies for how you will respond in the event.

        Related: Why you should treat business security like a credit check
      2. Back up your systems
        Having backups of you company’s files is one of the most effective ways of tackling ransomware. If all your files are regularly backed up, you can potentially ignore the ransomware attack and reinstate files that have been encrypted. If, like most organisations today, you use the cloud, then a cloud backup option (using third party cloud servers) is a good approach.
      3. Train your staff regularly
        Most ransomware will enter your company’s systems after an employee clicks on a link that they shouldn’t. It is therefore vital to regularly train employees so they can spot potentially risky files, and foster a security-conscious culture.
      4. Follow good cyber hygiene
        Cyber security hygiene is about managing your company’s systems so that they are well organised – making them less accessible for cyber criminals. Depending on how your IT systems are set up, this might include things like making sure that former employee accounts are removed, patches are installed as soon as possible, restricting which apps your employees can download, and using mobile device management and end point management. 
        On demand webinar: Company security in Microsoft 365
      5. Multi factor authentication
        Multi factor authentication requires your employees to provide at least two pieces of information to prove that they are who they say they are when they try to log onto your systems. This means that if a cybercriminal has infected one of your users’ accounts, they cannot easily spread their software into other accounts.
      6. Least privilege access/Zero Trust
        Another way to minimise the risk of ransomware spreading is to ensure that employees only have access to files that they need to see. By ‘gating’ off different areas of your intranet or cloud environment so people can only view a limited number of files, it becomes a lot harder for cyber criminals to launch a comprehensive ransomware attack and block you out from large amounts of data.
      7. Seek ransomware out
        A final method for managing the ransomware risk is to use cyber security software which actively seeks out ransomware on your company’s network. Typically, ransomware will ‘hide’ inside your systems for several days or even weeks, gradually spreading in the background. Using artificial intelligence, modern cyber security software can seek out ransomware before it spreads too far.

Helping you manage the ransomware risk

Keeping your business up to date with all the different kinds of cyber security threats today can be extremely challenging and time consuming. Not every company has the skills and expertise in house to continually monitor and prepare for ransomware threats.

And this is where FITTS can help. Our highly experienced cyber security consultants can support you to design an effective ransomware prevention strategy and keep you up to date with this evolving threat.

Read more about cyber security best practices from our experts, or contact us to discuss your needs today.