This uniquely pernicious form of malware is a new kind of threat to organizations around the world.
Ransomware is fast becoming the cybersecurity nightmare of the 21st century. It’s the invisible, aggressive epidemic of the electronic world that holds data hostage and requests ransom in order for its owner to get it back. The stakes have escalated beyond ransom to an even higher level of deviance, aiming to permanently destroy the stolen data and files, as opposed to just holding them hostage.
Ransomware knows no bounds. It can exploit corporate, government, private and public servers alike, successfully encrypting information and causing massive data breaches, reputational damage, and deteriorating shareholder confidence.
Ukrainian ransomware epidemic spreads globally
Case in point: the recent Petya virus. It manifested in a colossal cyberattack, and it didn’t discriminate. While the bulk of impacted organizations were in Ukraine, its effect nonetheless rippled around the world. Petya impacted organizations as diverse as the National Bank of Ukraine, Kiev’s main international airport, Boryspil, and the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, causing the latter to go into manual-operation mode, among many others.
Petya was also out for more than ransom. While the virus demanded $300 in Bitcoin to have the data returned to its owner, it also went after the entire hard drive of a computer, overwriting the master reboot record and preventing it from loading the operating system.
Petya is just one of several ransomware attacks that have proliferated over the past years. In May 2017, the world was hit with the equally infamous WannaCry epidemic, which infected more than 300,000 computers globally. A few years earlier, there was the nasty Cryptowall 3 attack that generated more than $325 million in ransom for its developers.
Vaccinating against ransomware
Ransomware, also known as malicious software or malware, is powerful because of the way it encrypts and exploits data/servers, holding sensitive information hostage. Because of the manner in which it propagates, malware can engulf large multinationals by exploiting vulnerabilities in company servers.
Nevertheless, there are steps an organization can take to protect itself from these attacks. Here are a series of recommendations for corporate leaders to consider in order to vaccinate against ransomware attacks.
- Look for vendors and partners that apply the proper patches to their systems to mitigate the risks of malware episodes.As an example, the Petya virus started with a widely used tax and accounting software in the Ukraine that, unfortunately, didn’t have the proper protective measures in place to avoid the outcome it produced. You can protect your business from the impacts of ransomware by asking the right upfront questions of the companies with which you’re partnering. It’s imperative you ensure they have the systems and protections in place to keep malware at bay.
- Learn about the information security team(s) of the vendors/partners with which you do business.Ask questions such as:
Does your company have an information security team?
Where is it located and what hours of coverage does it provide?
What tools and processes does it implement to protect against ransomware and cyberattack threats?
- Find out what the counter-cyberattack strategy is of your partner organizations.
- Ask if your partner has an in-depth defense strategy.
- Familiarize yourself with the way in which partners/providers harden their systems and processes against potential ransomware instances.
Ransomware defense strategy partners
To combat the negative impact of a malware or ransomware attack, it’s important to understand the defense strategy of your data and system providers.
Essential components of such a strategy should include:
- Application security
- Two-factor authentication
- Anti-phishing technologies
- Employee-awareness training
- Hardening of potential attack vectors
These actions mitigate the undue exposure ransomware threats present and protect the organization and its partners from the impact of cases like Petya and WannaCry.
Ask your partners what their defense strategy is. The answer should be forthright and clear. If it isn’t, you should find out why.