Is the United States Facing a Ransomware Pandemic?

It almost feels antiquated to think about taking a person hostage and demanding a few thousand dollars with a letter made of magazine clippings. Today, you can take an entire company – and, by extension, potentially millions of its customers – a prisoner to the tune of multiple millions of dollars. Welcome to the blooming and booming age of Ransomware.

Ransomware is a program that locks a business or individual out of their important files and functions, only to be restored upon payment to the perpetrator. Ransomware is most commonly contracted via phishing emails and Trojan Horses; emails and programs made to appear as messages from colleges and or otherwise innocuous things. Once sensitive information is attained, administrative permissions can be altered to deny owners access to their websites or other critical systems. Alternatively, perpetrators may seize or copy a client’s information, threatening to take credit card numbers, social security numbers, email addresses, phone numbers, or medical records if payment is not received within the allotted time.

The sudden spike in severity and frequency of ransomware attacks comes alongside the increased accessibility to the company’s servers during the covid-19 lockdowns; businesses their databases available to employees working from home has opened new entry points from hackers and other cyber-criminals that were not previously exploitable. Those employees not used to working remotely may have also not been adequately briefed or trained to identify phishing attempts or other fraudulent and malicious activities.

So what can be done to prevent Ransomware attacks?

Perhaps the easiest method to hamper ransomware attacks is to provide systems with strong, lengthy passwords. This takes the guesswork out of many of the simpler attacks. A password that is 20 characters long has astronomically lower odds of being discovered than the word “password” or an important date. Sites and businesses should also allow for a full range of characters to be used in password generation and high minimum character lengths to assure the highest complexity and security of important administrative and user passwords.

Another precaution, as mentioned earlier, is creating awareness of the existence of phishing and Trojan programs. Providing employees regularly involved in the maintenance and operation of digital workspaces should receive detailed lessons on spotting and reporting suspicious emails and other ransomware delivery methods. Limiting the number of workers provided with more critical login credentials also helps keep the risk of potential data leaks low, as does change those credentials in regular intervals.

One final way to combat ransomware attacks may adversely affect a business’s efficiency but can make certain infrastructure immune to malicious programs completely: Decoupling them from the wider internet.

Local Area Networks (LAN) that do not have internet access are not susceptible to attacks from outside that network. Isolating data storage and other vital functionally means only those with direct, physical access to those systems can tamper with them. This will, naturally, drastically lower your list of potential suspects in the case something does happen.

Like with any other threat, awareness and understanding the way it works, even on a lower level, can be the difference between smooth operations and a finical catastrophe. As technology becomes more advanced, so do the methods used by criminals. Don’t cheap out on defensive training and infrastructure, or you might be paying a much higher price in the near future.