How Can Small Businesses Protect Themselves from Ransomware Attacks?
Ransomware is a type of malware or malicious software that can severely impact a company’s systems, data, and business operations. During a ransomware attack, cybercriminals use advanced encryption techniques to hide all files and data until the victim agrees to pay a fee or “ransom” in exchange for a decryption key.
Unlike major enterprises, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often have smaller IT teams and not enough funds to set up robust cybersecurity measures against file-encrypting malware. This renders them more vulnerable to cyberattacks, thus making them prime targets of ransomware.
Ransomware is particularly dangerous because it gives criminals access to sensitive data and causes malware-induced downtime, which may lead to lost revenue and even damages to the brand in some cases. On top of that, ransomware can drain a small company’s funds and even cause them to go bankrupt. Data from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that ransomware perpetrators can demand as much as $100,000, which is a hefty fee for companies that are just starting out.
That said, even if you’re a small business, you can still be proactive in keeping your systems protected. Here are some ways you can protect your organization from devastating ransomware attacks:
Evaluate Your Current Tech Stack
The first step to fortifying your company’s cybersecurity posture is to get a good idea of your current system vulnerabilities. To do this, you can hire a consultant to perform risk assessments and determine ways to address potential cybersecurity loopholes.
Often times, the consultant will ask you to implement a privileged access management (PAM) solution to limit the attack surface of a cyber-attack, if you don’t already have one. However, PAM for cybersecurity is not a complete solution. What’s needed is a comprehensive solution with layers of protection, from the user, perimeter, infrastructure and all the way to the database, as you’ll see in this article.
Keep Software and Systems Regularly Updated
One of the most important items in a small business’s tech arsenal is antivirus software, which protects your organization at the user level. However, it’s not enough to simply install one and call it a day.
For one, you must make sure that you have the latest version of your antispyware or antivirus software of choice. The good news is that the vendors of these kinds of software typically provide readily downloadable updates and patches to improve their software’s functionality and correct issues from previous versions. To readily take advantage of these improvements, it’s best to configure your antivirus software to automatically install updates for added convenience.
Aside from your antivirus or antispyware software, you should also regularly update your devices’ operating systems to include manufacturer-provided upgrades. These updates may include security patches and firewalls that are better configured to prevent new ransomware schemes.
Secure Your Networks
Securing your network secures the perimeter layer of your organization. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has advised businesses to secure their internet connectivity through data encryption and firewall techniques. Essentially, a firewall acts as a shield for your network by acting as an always-on filter that stops any suspicious data from penetrating your network.
In addition, the SBA recommends that organizations hide their WiFi networks from hackers. You can do this by password-protecting router access and configuring your router to hide your Service Set Identifier (SSID) or network name.
Even better, implement a Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solution with micro-segmentation so hackers cannot access your assets in your network.
Use Strong Authentication Techniques
As a rule of thumb, access to company networks, portals, and content management systems (CMS) must be limited to staff to prevent disastrous system breaches. However, limiting access isn’t enough to protect your organization from ransomware attacks, especially if your business uses cloud-based productivity or workplace management suites. To add a layer of security for all company-related accounts, it is strongly recommended to add multi-factor authentication (2FA) to your log-in processes.
Multi-factor authentication is, as the name implies, a form of authentication that requires two or more verification steps to complete the login process. One-time passwords (OTPs) are an example of additional verification steps, wherein a short code is either sent to the user’s registered mobile number or stored in a two-factor authentication app. These codes are set to expire within seconds or minutes, and the idea is that someone attempting to hack into another person’s account won’t have access to the person’s phone and, therefore, the OTP.
Invest in Cybersecurity Training
Despite numerous advancements in cybersecurity technology, ransomware attacks can still happen due to human oversight. To avoid these mistakes, it’s important to not only invest in the right technology, but also in the right employee training. After all, since almost everyone in your team regularly interacts with the company’s web-based interfaces, all employees must be proactive when it comes to protecting company systems and data.
Indeed, the importance of instilling cyber hygiene practices in all team members cannot be understated. Consider investing in efforts to refresh your staff’s understanding of basic cybersecurity precautions such as avoiding suspicious-looking emails, identifying fake websites from legit ones, and protecting the data of customers and partner vendors.
Back Up Your Data Regularly
As a rule, your business should make at least one additional copy of everything you have stored on the web or in your company’s systems. By backing up vital company software and data, this pertinent information can be recovered in the event of a cyber emergency, assuming you have a solid backup and disaster recovery solution.
To start, make it a habit to store copies of your business’s important data on external hard drives or flash drives. That said, it’s important to assign specific employees to take charge of keeping these external drives safe and updated.
As an added layer of protection, consider also using a cloud-based platform with multi-factor authentication and next-level encryption to store important files such as employee databases, contracts, invoices, and inventory spreadsheets. Cloud platforms allow you to automatically back up your data and enable anyone from your team to access such data 24/7. By having a copy on an external hard drive and a copy on the cloud, you’ll have two backup copies of your business’s most important data.
The Good News: Ransomware Is Preventable
Small businesses play a big role in driving entrepreneurial innovation, creating jobs, and boosting the economy. Unfortunately, sometimes it only takes a few careless clicks to paralyze a small business and spur a domino effect of negative outcomes.
If you use internet services to run your business or use a web-enabled computer for your day-to-day operations, know that cyber extortionists can potentially target your company and drain you of your financial resources if you aren’t careful. The good news is that you can keep ransomware from ever permeating your digital defenses by applying cybersecurity best practices and always keeping yourself updated on the latest trends in cybersecurity for businesses.
How Can Small Businesses Protect Themselves from Ransomware Attacks?