In recent news, a man in the United Kingdom managed to stumble upon a way to stop the spread of ransomware that was infecting computers in hundreds of organizations, including the National Health System. Though he came across this kill switch completely by accident, his actions brought a ray of hope to business owners all over the globe.
Before we get into this incident, however, it’s important to understand what ransomware is in the first place.
What Is Ransomware?
At the most basic level, ransomware is a software that, once downloaded, blocks a user from accessing their files — or their computer as a whole — until a certain amount of money is paid. It falls into the category of malware, which is any software mostly used by hackers to access data on a computer or a system.
Often, ransomware programs presents itself as a warning from the authorities, such as the FBI, saying you are in violation of the law, and must pay a fine to use your computer again. So for users unfamiliar with these schemes — often older individuals — ransomware attacks look like legitimate demands for money.
In the early days of ransomware — that is, about 10 years ago — hackers would take over the entire system by locking the keyboard until the ransom was paid. More modern strategies make blocking attacks a bit more complicated. Instead of locking up keyboard functions, hackers often use software that encrypts all of your data. After paying the hacker, you are given the encryption key so you can see all of your files and other information again.
While ransomware is most often associated with laptop and desktop computers, mobile devices can be held ransom as well. Often, hackers will target Android devices, as they allow users to download third-party programs. However, no device is truly safe from ransomware unless you take specific steps to protect yourself.
Back to the UK Cyber Attacks
The 22-year-old British man, known only under the pseudonym MalwareTech, was on a weeklong vacation. He decided to use his time to investigate the ransomware that was spreading around the UK, diving into its code. After a long, sleepless night of investigation, he accidentally discovered the program’s “kill switch.”
In more technical terms, he realized the ransomware would try to contact a specific web address, which was just a long chain of random letters, whenever it infected a new computer. He also realized that website had not been registered. So, he bought the site for about $10, which let him see where the malware was spreading to. But, his actions also had an unintended side effect: buying the domain stopped the ransomware from spreading by triggering a specific part of its code.
MalwareTech is now being hailed as an “accidental hero.” His reward? An extra week of vacation, as his original holiday was so disrupted.
Is This the End of Ransomware?
Thanks to MalwareTech’s discovery, cyber security experts now know how that ransomware works. So does that mean ransomware is no longer a threat?
There are plenty of malware programs out there that will have the same kill switch as this one, but not all of them. Now that this bit of code has been discovered, new techniques will be developed by hackers, which will make new malware that much harder to stop. And small business owners need to protect themselves.
Protecting Your Small Business from Ransomware
It’s a common belief that large corporations are the most common target for ransomware and other malware. However, those companies often have the resources to eliminate the threat, either with top-notch cyber security measures or by simply paying off the attacker. Small businesses, on the other hand, simply aren’t prepared for these attacks — and the overall costs can be devastating.
On average, ransomware attackers demand about $300 from small businesses. But with the aftermath of restoring backups, networks and even customer confidence, the true costs can skyrocket. And even though this is a real threat, only 21 percent of SMBs say they have the proper security measures in place to prevent such attacks.
But there are steps you can take to protect yourself. On the basic level, never download or open links from unfamiliar email addresses, instant messages or shady websites. This is by far the easiest way to avoid most malware attacks.
But let’s say an attack does happen. Where is your data? If you utilize cloud storage, you can minimize your costs. You may have to pay to have your computer completely “scrubbed” to eliminate the malware (which also eliminates everything else on your computer), but all of your files and other vital information is stored on the cloud. Plus, the big cloud providers like Oracle and Amazon are among the most secure companies in the world.
Protecting yourself from ransomware and other malware should be among your top priorities. One of the easiest steps you can take to strengthen the cyber security of your small business is to trust the experts to handle it for you. Call us today to learn more about our software and methods to protect you from hackers, and to start your free trial of our premium package.