Ransomware attacks are on the rise and it’s probably no coincidence that this happens in an election year. What can your organization do to protect itself from ransomware attacks? The first line of defense is your employees. Here are some tips to prepare employees.
What is a Ransomware Attack?
At its essence, ransomware is a form of malware, but with an insidious twist. Ransomware is a new kind of digital weapon that nefarious hackers use to steal or manipulate their victims. The ransomware itself comes in the form of malicious code that is embedded into the victim’s computer system. The code then deletes or encrypts vital data. Once the ransomware has initiated, the hacker then contacts the victim and makes their demands. In return for the demands being met, the victim gets their vital data restored. As you can see, this entire process is exactly like what a hostage taker does when they kidnap and hold a person for ransom, which is why this digital weapon is called ransomware.
What are the Dangers of a Ransomware Attack?
Often, the victim’s business or enterprise operations are completely paralyzed by the ransomware attack. Without the data that has been deleted or encrypted from their operating systems, the victim cannot continue to do business. In many cases, the victim’s business comes to a grinding halt, costing them money and time. Further, when sensitive data falls into the hands of these hackers, it often finds its way onto the Dark Web, where identities are bought and sold like candy. Not only does this leave the victim’s clients’ information exposed; it also makes the victim’s company vulnerable to lawsuits from its own victimized clients. Ransomware attacks are a slippery slope into bankruptcy and destruction of reputations.
Local Governments are Particularly Susceptible to Ransomware Attacks
New research conducted at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County showed that state and local governments are woefully unprepared for ransomware attacks. In the 2019 study, researchers were able to assemble a set of staggering statistics about the cybersecurity practices of local governments:
- A little over a third of government organizations have no understanding of how often security incidents happen.
- Over two-thirds of government organizations have no idea of how often actual security breaches have occurred.
- Fewer than half of government organizations keep records of security attacks.
This slice sampling indicates that, in general, government organizations are not security-minded and are wholly unprepared for ransomware attacks. In fact, in Texas alone, no fewer than 22 agencies were attacked via ransomware in August of 2019. While it may seem on the surface like “only” state and local government data would be impacted by a ransomware attack, there is something much more ominous on the near horizon.
Upcoming Election Data in Jeopardy
Consider the fact that state elections and federal election results are handled in-state. Ballots are taken and tallied within the state. At this level of jurisdiction, and keeping in mind the study results, it’s clear that there are some severe cybersecurity vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. With the upcoming 2020 elections coming up soon, some measurable steps obviously need to be taken.
How to Prepare Employees Against a Ransomware Attack
Whether your organization is a government organization or a private sector enterprise, you need to stride ahead with a set of revised operations protocol that integrates a security mindset. Best practices include using layered security measures such as two-factor authentication, multiple layers of data backup, cybersecurity awareness training and endpoint security measures. Every employee, manager and executive needs to be made aware of the threats that exist both at the uppermost levels, and right down to the handheld devices and thumb drives on the organization’s premises. Seminars and employee workshops are on the beginning. Education and awareness of common ransomware attack strategies can help. But it’s up to those in charge to ensure that these steps are implemented right away.
There’s no time to lose with red tape or bureaucracy. This is not a slow onset threat that is in the distant future. The threat of a ransomware attack is already on your doorstep. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you have bolted the door.
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