Ross Howard, editor, Insights For Professionals
Ross Howard, editor, Insights For Professionals

For every business, no matter how large or small, security is of primary importance. However, the world of cyber-crime is constantly evolving, and staying informed about the most recent threats can be a challenge.

Yet, in the wake of the ransomware virus commonly known as WannaCry, which recently impacted organisations in approximately 150 countries worldwide, it has become more crucial than ever to learn how to avoid malware attacks. New hacking technology is constantly being discovered, and high-profile attacks like WannaCry increase the risk of copycat attempts in the near future.

The security of your organisation and its employees is critical, and becoming the victim of a cyber-attack can be both costly and disruptive to your business. Fortunately, with the right knowledge, and a proactive approach to your IT security, you can guard against the majority of threats, and protect your data from theft, corruption, and misuse.

Theft, fraud and “hacktivism”

Many cases of cyber-crime today have one of the following goals:

  • To steal sensitive data. 
  • To hold data to ransom, usually for bitcoins. 
  • To cause disruption for social or political reasons, often dubbed “hacktivism”.

In the case of WannaCry, hackers used a combination of two existing exploits, to create a ransomworm that spread via a weakness in the implementation of the Windows SMB protocol. On gaining access, the worm then displayed a “ransom note” on the user's screen, claiming that their data had been encrypted, and demanding payment in bitcoins for its retrieval.

This practice is becoming increasingly popular, as many individuals will sooner pay the fee, rather than risk losing their files. For larger organisations this can be particularly critical, as it may mean all of their computers become unusable until the issue is resolved.

Yet, while WannaCry was one of the widest-reaching hacks to date, it is just one of a series of high-profile cyber-crimes in recent years. Other headline grabbing hacks from the past have included:

  • The 2015 Ashley Madison data breach, in which users of the controversial dating site were blackmailed with threats that details of their affairs would be publicly leaked.
  • In 2016, the US Department of Justice was subject to a breach that culminated in the details of around 30,000 government employees being leaked.
  • Later in 2016, over one billion Yahoo users were revealed to have been affected by a significant data breach, thought to have stemmed from an attack that had occurred three years earlier.

In other cases, “hacktivists”, most notably the wide-reaching group Anonymous, have used their knowledge to incite political or social change, or to expose and challenge immoral activity. In one instance, having breached NHS security, the hackers simply sent an email informing the Health Service of the vulnerability they had uncovered.

Hackers have also challenged terrorist organisations, and defaced or shut down political websites, often in response to extreme political regimes. There were also suspicions that the US election results had been manipulated by hackers.

Shore Up Your IT Security

Whatever the reason behind it, a cyber-attack can not only bring your business to a standstill, but can also cause significant harm to the reputation of your organisation. Your customers want to know that their data is secure, and any form of breach could cause them to lose confidence. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to avoid the threat of ransomware, and safeguard your business against all forms of cyber-crime.

Keeping your firewalls, data protection, and anti-malware applications current is the foundation of any IT security structure. Diligent patch management means you will maximise your chances of protecting your network against new threats before they can reach you.

You should also educate your staff on endpoint security and how they may be targeted by potential threats. This includes advising staff to be wary of links in emails or other messages, even if the sender is someone they know.

In addition, when using a device that has access to company files or networks, your employees should be cautious of applications that require permissions to run, and of connecting to public or unsecured WiFi networks. 

Reacting to cyber-attacks

Knowing how to react to a breach in data security is the final step in protecting your organisation, as it means that even if an attack is successful, your business can return to full operational capacity as soon as possible.

In addition, you should be aware of where your files are stored, and ensure that all critical data is backed up, whether in cloud storage, or an offsite server. This means that even if the worst should happen, your business will not be brought to a standstill.

Once these measures are in place, they still need to be maintained. Yet the protection and peace of mind afforded by a well-thought out security strategy is invaluable, and will benefit your business for years to come.

Contributed by Ross Howard, editor, Insights For Professionals

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media or Haymarket Media.