Every small business, with its dreams and ambitions, takes on the digital world hoping to expand its reach. But, as with every adventure, there are unforeseen risks. Among these threats is ransomware, a rising type of cyber attack that casts shadows even on the sunniest of digital ventures.
In a recently State of Ransomware 2022 study with Sophos Labs, 5,600 IT professionals from mid-sized organizations across 31 countries were surveyed. The study found that ransomware attacks have increased, and are significantly more sophisticated. Not only that, but they have a significant effect on a business’s success. More than 86% of companies in the private sector surveyed lost business or revenue because of ransomware.
Let’s explore why this particular threat is causing waves in the small business community and how you can rise above it.
In the vast digital terrain, ransomware emerges as one of the more menacing predators. But what exactly is it? At its core, ransomware is malicious software designed with a singular mission: to deny users access to their own data. This is achieved by encrypting the victim’s files, essentially putting a digital lock on them. The only key? A ransom payment, often demanded in cryptocurrency, made to the cybercriminal.
However, it’s not just about locking you out. Modern ransomware attacks also threaten to publish or permanently delete the victim’s data if the ransom isn’t paid within a set timeframe. For small businesses, this could mean losing access to vital client data, financial records, or operational software. It’s digital extortion, and its impacts can be devastating.
The world of ransomware is not one-size-fits-all. There are different strains and types, each with its own modus operandi. Here’s a brief overview of the most common ones:
For small businesses, understanding the landscape of ransomware types can aid in better preparation and foster a more robust defense against potential threats.
Ransomware is no longer a term limited to tech gurus. It’s a buzzword and, unfortunately, a reality for many. Essentially, ransomware is a form of malicious software that holds your data hostage, locking you out until a ‘ransom’ is paid.
Imagine coming to your shop one day and finding a big lock on the door with a note demanding payment for entry. That’s ransomware in the digital realm. For a small business, the stakes are high. It could mean no access to client databases, inventory systems, or operational tools — a potential nightmare.
Even worse, it could mean exposure of sensitive data and private information. Cyber criminals are not only encrypting files, but also threaten to release victim data if the ransom isn’t paid. The use of these tactics in tandem is called “double extortion,” according to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.
Often, it sneaks in through deceptive means. An email that looks like it’s from a trusted vendor could actually be a phishing email hiding ransomware. A software update prompt? That could be another ruse, full of malicious code.
The most common tactics used by cybercriminals to implement a ransomware infection are:
The most common is email phishing, thanks to its scalability and ease at which criminals can reach multiple victims at once.
Ransomware isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a real and tangible threat, especially for small businesses. For many, the digital realm represents new opportunities and growth. However, this space is also filled with unseen dangers.
When it comes to these types of threats, small businesses are the prime, ideal target. More than 80% of ransomware attacks target small businesses, according to a report by ransomware recover specialists Coveware. It’s a threat to any business, but companies with less than 1,000 employees are proven to be the most at-risk.
Small businesses, often lacking the extensive IT infrastructure of larger corporations, are particularly vulnerable. An attack can severely cripple operations, damage the brand’s reputation, and result in significant financial losses. The alarm isn’t just about potential threats but ensuring that businesses recognize their vulnerabilities and take proactive measures to protect themselves.
When ransomware strikes, the immediate concern is to regain access to encrypted data. Ransoms alone have nearly doubled from 2022 to 2023, costing on average $1.54 million, according to the Sophos State of Ransomware 2023.
But the costs go beyond paying a ransom. The cost of recovery includes business disruption, loss of productivity, investment in cybersecurity upgrades, repeated attacks, higher insurance premiums, legal costs, and other related expenses.
Perhaps the biggest cost threat of all is loss of business. Though a company may be years past from a ransomware attack, this breach of security could have a lasting impact on a company’s reputation and perception for customers, clients, partners, and stakeholders.
Ransomware might be making headlines, but it’s just one in a family of cyber threats.
Spear Phishing: Personalized scam emails targeting specific individuals or businesses. Their aim? Deceptively obtain sensitive information.
Malware: A broad term for any software maliciously designed to harm or exploit any device, network, or service. Ransomware is a subtype, but malware encompasses a vast array of threats.
Viruses: Rogue code that attaches to clean code, spreading through corrupting and damaging processes.
The defining line? Ransomware’s uniqueness is its hostage-like approach. Unlike others that might discreetly steal or damage, ransomware boldly locks and demands a ransom.
Ransomware attacks have seen a rise and fall over the last decade, but the numbers are consistent: these types of cyber crimes are here to stay.
This isn’t just about big corporations with high-profile data breaches. It’s a ransomware small business crisis.
Every cyber attack on a small business makes recovery longer and more expensive. The median cost of a ransomware attack was $1.4 million in 2021, making ransomware protection more vital than ever.
Prevention is the first step in your line of defense for protecting your business. Using advice from expert organizations and law enforcement agencies, we recommend the following steps to prevent a ransomware attack:
Remember, ransomware protection isn’t just about fancy software. It’s about creating a culture of cybersecurity awareness in your establishment.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “What if it’s too late? What if I’ve already been hit?” Don’t panic. Recovery is possible.
Whether you’re experiencing a threat in real-time or retracing your steps following a recent ransomware attack, these next moves are vital in protecting your organization and limiting the damage and cost as best as possible.
It’s a tough journey, but remember, every setback is a setup for an even bigger comeback. In 2021, almost all organizations (99%) were able to retrieve some of their encrypted data, most by using data backups.
Ransomware is undoubtedly a significant threat, but it’s not the only one out there. Small businesses should be aware of the broader landscape of cyber threats to ensure comprehensive protection.
In this ever-evolving digital age, threats like ransomware are unfortunately becoming commonplace. But with awareness, preparedness, and the right tools, your business can stay one step ahead.
Your digital journey might seem daunting, but here at EarthLink, we’ve got your back. We’re here, not just as a service, but as your digital ally. Together, let’s ensure that your business thrives, come what may.