6 Cyber Security Tips to Protect your Business from Ransomware

6 Cyber Security Tips to Protect your Business from Ransomware

Published 2 weeks ago May 16th, 2017

As we move towards GDPR and an era of unprecedented responsibility for online security, revising fundamental cyber security tips has become essential: for there was never a more dramatic illustration of the vulnerability of many firms and data gathering organisations to malware than last weekend’s massive WannaCry ransomware attack.

True, the attacks bore the hallmarks of amateurism, and appear to have been motivated by extortion rather than anything more sinister. Indeed, WannaCry’s viral progress was brought to a halt by a British security expert who derailed the malware’s wormlike process quite by accident.

“It is still possible that further incidences will arise and a sustained period of vigilance will be required…”

But even that lucky break was not before WannaCry had pretty much brought the UK’s National Health Service to its knees, and wrought havoc on Germany’s rail system, Telefónica in Spain, the Russian mobile operator MegaFon. and on 200,000 victim systems worldwide.

Ireland, it seems, got off lightly, with Communications Minister, Denis Naughten confirming only an “isolated case” of WannaCry in an HSE-funded facility in Wexford. However, Naughten’s statement on Monday—“It is still possible that further incidences will arise and a sustained period of vigilance will be required, both in terms of updating and patching software and monitoring equipment”—is, while spot on, rather understating the vulnerability of business systems to malware.

Here are 6 things you need to know about WannaCry, ransomware attacks and malware in general, and cyber security tips to take to protect your business from hackers.

 

1. What is WannaCry?

WannaCry (a.k.a. WannaCryptor or Wcrypt) is a piece of ransomware, spread mostly through emails, which, if activated, encrypts files on computers, demanding ransom in digital bitcoin for the safe return of the information. WannaCry achieves this by using a hacking tool recently leaked from the US National Security Agency, known as the ‘Eternalblue’ code, which can commandeer devices that are running on pre-Windows 10 operating systems.

With a breathtaking 48.5 percent of the world’s computers running on Windows 7, only 26 percent of computers running on the latest Microsoft OS, and 7 percent running on the officially ‘ancient’ 16-year-old Windows XP, the implications are clear.

This is why the UK’s national health system computers were so vulnerable to the WannaCry attacks, and why the malware made such an impact on other organisations worldwide—larger corporate business entities that are slower to update and upgrade their IT systems than their leaner counterparts in the SME sector.

There is a clear question that larger business and civic organisations dealing in data must ask of themselves. Do we update, and if not, how do we protect our computer and online systems from attack? And in the meantime, what to do? Here are a few cyber security tips to help you get your house in order.

 

2. Beware Unknown Senders & External Mails

Another of the most basic cyber security tips that is impossible to overstate. So we reiterate, again. Be ultra vigilant about any emails that you receive from external sources, or mails that appear to come from within your organisation that contain attachments you are unfamiliar with. Also take steps to ensure that everyone in your team and larger organisation is aware of the WannaCry problem.

 

3. Update your Windows system immediately

The best immediate course of action is to consult Microsoft Security Bulletin MS17-0101 Critical. But do not be complacent if your business runs on a pre-Windows 10 system. From Microsoft’s perspective, this is the dark ages, and there is no reason to presume that the company will continue to make free patches for Windows XP (as it has done, during March and again over the weekend) that will fix the ‘Eternalblue’ vulnerability exploited by WannaCry.

 

4. Back Up Your Data

Silicon Republic writer Gordon Hunt perhaps put the WannaCry incident into the sharpest perspective when he described the attacks as “a walking advertisement for updating operating systems and security patches”.

But one of the most basic cyber security data tips appears not to have been heeded in numerous instances: back up your data, and keep it secure.

Although for firms that have been hit by WannaCry, the horse may have bolted, it’s a lesson for the more fortunate about what can happen when cyber criminals strike.

 

5. Should I Pay the Ransom?

This is probably the least welcome of these cyber security tips in that it deals with the nuclear option: the worst case scenario, where you’ve inadvertently activated the WannaCry ransomware via an email attachment, and are now locked out of your files.

cyber security tips

Image Source: Reuters

What to do? Experts recommend that the ransom should not be paid. The ransom demand tends to be in the US$300-400 bracket, which might not seem like a huge sum when measured against your precious data.

Many companies have set up Twitter bots to track the three digital wallet bitcoin accounts attached to WannaCry, and ransoms paid to these so far total around $500,000. But as authorities stakeout these digital wallets, there has been no withdrawal of funds from them.

UK security experts have told the BBC that it is unlikely the perpetrators will act in good faith if ransom is paid. First, the WannaCry culprits are criminals, so there is no reason to expect honesty. Second is the probability that decryption must be activated manually; and third, the sloppily written code of WannaCry may not contain viable decryption processes.

 

6. Conclusion: enhance security & back up your files

All in all, the entire WannaCry incident, while undoubtedly galling for the organisations and businesses that have been affected—given the unlikelihood of ever having their data decrypted—highlights two of the key principles that will stand all data-gathering organisations in good stead during the GDPR era: keeping all your information secure, knowing where and how it is stored, and also double-locking the data by backing up your files on a regular basis.