Ransomware is an attack that can trick you into unnecessarily paying money to cybercriminals while causing you to lose your computer files forever. For businesses, these attacks can also result in a data breach and exposure of sensitive information. Mitigating ransomware is all about preparation and prevention, so we’ll walk you through why this attack occurs, and how you can defend against it.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware happens so frequently that it has a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary: “A type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.” Payment is often requested in bitcoin, the popular cryptocurrency, or in gift cards that can easily be sent to a “burner” email address. Unfortunately, if you’re hit by one ransomware attack, you’re likely to be hit again – a survey by Sophos found that not only did 54 percent of respondents experience ransomware, they were likely to experience two attacks or more.

The sad reality is, even if the ransom is paid, the information is often never unencrypted or restored, and if it is, the data is usually corrupted. Your best bet in beating ransomware is to wipe your system and restore it from a backup. And if you don’t have a backup… well, that’s why it’s better to be prepared for a ransomware attack, especially if you run a business that deals in sensitive data.

Hospitals, schools, and financial institutions are common targets for ransomware, as a successful attack can grant cybercriminals access to medical records, transaction history, or personal information like social security numbers. And if a cybercriminal has access to that information, you don’t just have a ransomware attack on your hands – you also have a data breach. Unfortunately, the frequency of these attacks is largely due to a major security mistake made by many companies.

Why do ransomware attacks happen?

Ransomware often takes advantage of vulnerabilities and security flaws in out of date operating systems. Companies often build their own software that meets their specific business needs, and that software commonly relies on a specific operating system – meaning that some companies might still be using Windows XP! That makes many businesses – especially ones that store sensitive data – easy targets for cybercriminals and ransomware attacks.

What to do if ransomware hits – and how you can prevent it

As stated earlier, the best way to beat a ransomware attack is to wipe your computer and restore it from a clean, recent backup. When backing up any data, it’s best to make three copies: one stored locally, one stored on a physical device like a drive or disc, and one stored off-site or in the cloud. In the event a ransomware attack occurs, you can simply wipe your system and restore it from a backup. Then be sure to update your system so that it doesn’t happen again, because the best way to prevent ransomware is to keep your system up to date!  Business owners should ensure that their employees’ operating systems and applications are always updated to the latest versions as soon as possible. Additionally, if your business relies on proprietary software, make sure that it is compatible with future operating systems and updates. It’s a good practice to keep your personal machine up to date as well!

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