In today’s hyper-connected world, where technology is such an integral part of almost every industry, you have to take cybersecurity seriously. Statistics show that the rate of cyberattack attempts on businesses of all sizes is on the rise. And when it comes to cyber-crime, ransomware is one of the biggest threats of all.

But what is ransomware, how does it work, and what are some steps a typical business can take to defend itself? Read on to learn all you need to know.

What Is Ransomware? A Definition

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) which works by blocking access to a device, system, or group of files. In some cases, ransomware programs may even threaten to release or share the user’s private files unless they pay a fee.

To regain control of their device or recover access to their files, the user is effectively forced to pay up. In other words, this software is able to hold systems to ransom, which is where the name comes from.

A Brief History of Ransomware

The history of ransomware goes back to the late 80s when the so-called “AIDS Trojan” began to infect machines around the world. As the years went by, other hackers and malicious users developed their own ransomware Trojans, making them harder to detect and more effective.

In recent years, there has been a spate of major ransomware attacks. In 2013 the “CryptoLocker” attack took place, where victims handed over an estimated $27 million. Then, in 2017, the infamous “WannaCry worm” spread to hundreds of thousands of devices globally, even affecting major health services like the British NHS.

How Do Ransomware Attacks Occur?

A typical ransomware attack involves the use of another form of malware, known as a Trojan horse. A Trojan horse is a disguised file that may look perfectly normal and innocent but actually hides malicious viral code inside.

Users can be tricked into downloading these Trojan files to their devices or opening them up. You might get one as an email attachment, for example, or hidden among the files when you download music or movies. Then, the Trojan activates, encrypting the victim’s files or locking down a device until the user pays the ransom.

However, this isn’t the only way in which ransomware is used. In some cases, advanced ransomware programs can spread and infect different devices without requiring any user input. This is how the aforementioned “WannaCry worm” spread back in 2017.

How to Defend Against Ransomware Attacks

Clearly, ransomware is a serious threat, and every online user is a potential target. Common ransomware victims can include small and mid-sized businesses, but even major enterprises and individual users may be targeted by this type of malware.

Therefore, no matter what kind of business you’re running, you need to take the necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your devices. Fortunately, when it comes to how to prevent ransomware, there are many simple, effective measures you can take.

Bolster Your Cyber-Defenses

Hackers have access to an advanced range of offensive tools to target their victims. But there are also plenty of defensive tools you can use to guard against ransomware attacks and a range of other cybersecurity threats, like firewalls and antivirus software.

High-quality anti-malware programs can scan your systems in real-time, detecting any viral presence and alerting you about suspicious files, links, or messages. Alternatively, you can take your cyber defenses one step further by finding a managed cybersecurity partner to handle malware protection for you.

Invest in Education

The more you know about ransomware and other forms of malware, the better prepared you’ll be to avoid it. That’s why experts encourage users to read up about cybersecurity and learn about different types of malware and how they work.

For businesses, it’s particularly important to educate your employees about the best cybersecurity practices. Often, it only takes a single click or misjudged download to trigger a ransomware attack. If employees aren’t aware of the risks, they could make a mistake that jeopardizes the entire business.

Always Install the Latest Updates

Often, hackers and malicious agents try to find little holes or areas to exploit in older versions of software and operating systems. They might detect that an old version of a popular anti-malware program isn’t able to detect their latest Trojan, for example. They can use that to target people who haven’t updated.

That’s why it’s absolutely critical to always update your software and operating systems on a regular basis. It can be inconvenient and frustrating to wait while updates download and install. However, it’s an essential process, as developers are always working to improve their software and fill in those little gaps in their code.

Make Backups of Key Files and Resources

It’s common for ransomware to block access to key files on your computer. When this happens, many users are scared about losing access to those files forever, so they pay the ransom. But what if you already have another copy of those same files stored on a different device?

That’s where backups come in. Many cybersecurity experts and agencies recommend making backups of your most significant files and documents on a regular basis. Store those backups on external hard drives or USB sticks so that you can always access them. That way, even if ransomware infects your device and locks off your key files, you’ll still be able to recover them without having to pay up.

How to Defend Against Ransomware Attacks

The consequences of ransomware can be catastrophic for any business, leading to operating delays, reputational damages, and financial loss. The risks simply can’t be underestimated, and it’s vital for every business to establish strict cybersecurity protocols as well as implement strong defenses to guard against any attacks.

With the right approach, strong software, and educated employees, you can drastically reduce your risk of falling victim to ransomware. OIT can help, offering managed cybersecurity services for users in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Mansfield. Contact us today to learn more, and put your business security in safe hands.