The Evolution of Ransomware in Small Businesses

Person typing on a laptop with a security lock icon overlapping the image - referring to a person learning about ransomware

Ransomware is a massive threat to businesses of all sizes and will be for quite some time, as hacking techniques are expected to continue to evolve. Studies have shown that cybercriminals have recently shifted their focus to directly targeting the computers of executives at small and medium-sized businesses. The reason being is executive computers contain much more personal and sensitive information about the businesses. That’s why this year, executives need to take extra steps to secure their information as they have become a point of interest for cybercriminals.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malicious software that infects your computer and displays messages demanding a fee to be paid for your system to function properly. This class of malware is a moneymaking scheme that cybercriminals use to gain access to personal information for financial gain. It can be installed through deceptive links in an email, instant message, or website and can lock a computer screen or encrypt important files.

Over time, hackers have learned how to develop highly targeted campaigns to breach executive’s computers. They can sort through files and emails to exfiltrate data that may be useful in threatening, embarrassing, or applying pressure to a company’s management. Cybercriminals often gain access to proprietary company data, compromising personal information or financial numbers, and use such for extortion purposes. They may also threaten to disclose the data breach to the public, which would cause reputational damage and incur a fine from regulators.

By now, every business needs to learn how to conduct a cybersecurity assessment to understand their most significant vulnerabilities. Here are a few simple steps that every business can take right now to help protect themselves from cybercriminal attacks:

1. Use Unique Passphrases on Your Accounts

Trying to come up with and remember complex passwords for a multitude of different accounts is virtually impossible. This means that most people fall back on using a few simple passwords for everything, subsequently creating a safety and security issue. Cybercriminals can easily breach accounts by gaining access to these all-inclusive passwords.

To address this issue, try creating unique passphrases instead of passwords. A passphrase is a long string of words that’s easy to remember but hard to brute force. For example, a passphrase might look like “Alex loves pizza!”. We also recommend utilizing a password manager to generate and store your passwords. If you’ve never used a password manager before, we highly suggest you start, and Dashlane is at the top of the list and something our team can personally vouch for. You can learn more about Dashlane and its importance in password security herePassword managers are a great tool to utilize when ensuring the safety of your business. Using a single master password, you can then gain access to any stored data within the password manager.

2. Set Up Two-Factor Authentication

Even with the utilization of strong passphrases and unique passwords across your accounts, you’re still vulnerable to data breaches. It’s critical to enable two-factor authentication (or 2FA) on all of your accounts to help combat this. 2FA works by creating an extra layer of protection by validating logins with a text message or app prompt on a second device. Two-factor authentication could help to prevent numerous company account compromises, h further stresses the importance of 2FA for data protection from cybercriminals.

3. Learn How to Identify and Avoid Phishing Scams

Phishing is a common cyber-attack used by hackers to send compromised emails that look legitimate to trick and ultimately hack recipients. Phishing emails usually mimic logos, language, and web addresses from real companies to further convince you that the email is authentic. These emails can also be highly targeted, meaning cybercriminals often do extensive background research and send distinct emails that appear to be from clients or close team members. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to phishing:

  • Never click on links or open any attachments from suspicious-looking emails, especially if they’re asking you to enter login credentials.

  • Be wary of unusual requests or other odd features when reading an email. Common phishing tactics include acting in the sense of urgency, someone claiming to be “locked out” of their work address, or saying that the sender is too busy to discuss an email further or clarify a request.

  • If you’re unsure whether or not the email is legitimate, it’s essential to directly reach out to the respective sender to verify that they sent the email.

Stay Safe

Executive teams are increasingly the targets of highly sophisticated hackers, which is why it’s critical to take extra precautions when it comes to IT security. With that said, having a robust cybersecurity strategy in place is the best form of protection for your business. Every business needs IT security services to protect their employees and vital data from loss or theft. We offer a comprehensive package of IT security services Austin businesses have come to depend on. Our value-driven IT security services provide peace of mind knowing that your systems and networks are safe from digital threats.

We’ve helped thousands of businesses and individuals defeat IT problems with our approach to doing IT better. Safeguard your business by learning more about our cybersecurity services and how we can best help your business today.