Computer viruses and malware have always been a major concern for businesses.

In the past, the worst damage an infected computer could suffer was slow performance. Unfortunately there is a new threat that infects without warning. Without the right safeguards, it can give your company a severe financial headache, as well as affect sensitive information you may have.

Meet the tech world’s new public enemy #1: Ransomware

What is Ransomware?

A new phishing campaign (think, ‘bait’) is sending hundreds of thousands of emails disguised as your own employees or departments, such as HR or Accounting. Ransomware emails are surprisingly well-worded, and appear to come from a legitimate email address and domain name – this is called email spoofing. At first glance, they rarely raise any red flags. However, the email usually comes with a demand for money for an arbitrary service (hence, ‘ransom’), along with an attachment that is either a Microsoft Word file (.docx) or template file (.dot).

Opening the attachment will cause a VBScript to execute and infect the machine with the ransomware. The ransomware will encrypt your files so they cannot be opened until you comply with the ransom demand and/or enter an encryption key. The longer you wait, the larger the ransom you have to pay.

Ransomware is different from traditional malware and computer viruses of the past. Before, the computer was not truly vulnerable unless it had an internet connection. Pop-ups and botnets distribute themselves via the internet. Ransomware can infect your computer when it is offline. Any files your machine can access, whether stored on your hard drive or an external device (USB), are vulnerable. This means you could be in airplane mode and still get infected.

Everyone is at risk. Many hospitals in particular have faced shutdowns and declared emergencies in the wake of file-locking malware. More recently, the federal agency issued a flash advisory to help businesses investigate this emerging new type of malware.

For more information on hospital attacks, click here.

How to best prevent these infections

Follow these three steps to protect your computers and your business

Step One: Backups
  1. Every business, no matter how small or large, needs secure and dependable backups. Ransomware programmers exploit the fact that “3 in 4 organizations don’t have a formal disaster-recovery (DR) plan in place” in case their unreliable backup fails (Symantec). With secure, dependable backups you can recover your data without falling prey to a ransom payment.
    For IT support and more information on securing your business with the right backup solution, read more here.
Step Two: Update Regularly
  1. Keep your computer up to date with the latest security patches from Microsoft® and frequent updates to your installed applications. In any business, keeping computers current and protected can be a daunting task. Unfortunately, it only takes one out of date computer to exploit and infect your entire company. Ask your IT department about patch management.This website is a great tool is that checks the web address for you, and lets you know how safe it is before you actually go to the page.
Step Three: Be Safe
  1. Follow best practices on system maintenance to minimize your chances of infection. Educating your employees and monitoring their online work habits will limit your company’s exposure. Make sure the proper security settings are in place on all machines. Ensure each user knows which websites and applications are safe to use.
    To learn more about automated and managed systems, watch the video below.

Author: Aaron White, Date: 23rd May 2016

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