In a study done by AVG, 68% of online business owners say that they’re familiar with ransomware.
That sounds rather impressive, right?
Well, not really.
It also means that one out of three small business owners hasn’t got a clue about how to keep their online business secure from this. And that is very scary.
The Dangers of Ransomware
Ransomware is now becoming one of the most rampant types of malware affecting online business and individuals today.
According to Adam Kujawa, Director of Malware Intelligence at Malwarebytes, the number of ransomware attack incidents increased by 231% between the first quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017.
For an online business owner, the effects of these attacks are devastating. In addition to losing all the data to cybercriminals, they also experience significant financial losses. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that ransomware cost its victims approximately $209 million within the first three months of 2016 alone. That number is projected to rise to about $6 trillion by 2021.
Then there’s the damage to the business’ online reputation. In today’s digital world, it’s imperative for small business owners to win the trust of their potential and existing clients. Only then will they have any chance of generating leads for their business to convert to customers.
When your online business falls victim to ransomware, you can quickly lose that hard-earned trust. On top of that, it can negatively impact your search rankings and even your relationships with suppliers and investors.
So What Exactly is Ransomware?
The video below explains exactly how ransomware works in detail.
The sad thing about this is that the longer you delay paying the ransom, the more cybercriminals eventually demand. The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center ended up paying $17,000 after their computer system was attacked by ransomware which blocked access to records and shut down critical medical equipment. Unfortunately, that’s nothing compared to the $28,000 ransom paid by the Los Angeles Valley College when it got hit.
Even more alarming is that of those that paid the ransom, less than half of them will be able to get their files back.
All these situations put small business owners and startups at a disadvantage because they don’t usually have the means to pay the ransom or pay the hefty fees IT security experts charge to fix the problem.
Ransomware Protection is Better than Cure
That said, the best way small business owners like you can combat the onslaught of ransomware is by taking measures to protect your computer systems and websites. Here are seven ways to keep your online business secure.
1. Choose a Secure Hosting Service for your Online Business
Make sure that your online store or website is hosted by a web hosting service provider that is PCI-compliant. This ensures that your site’s payment and checkout processes are safe and secure from hackers looking for loopholes they can exploit.
2. Switch to HTTPS
As its name suggests, a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a secure communications protocol that provides an added layer of security between your website and web server.
That way, any information that’s exchanged on your website is safe and secure.
An added bonus to this is that HTTPS is one of the ranking signals Google considers when ranking your website. So your website’s search ranking will also improve as a result.
3. Provide your Employees Email Best Practices
Email may be the preferred communication channel for business owners. However, it’s also the most common method used to infect your computer system with ransomware.
This is done through a process called phishing spam. What that means is that cybercriminals include malicious attachments in the email they send out. The moment you open the email and the attachment, you open the door for ransomware to make its way into your computer system.
Creating a set of email best practices for your employees to follow will help prevent that from happening. Some of the best practices worth including here are:
- Discouraging employees to use their business email address in subscribing to different mailing lists.
- Never openning any links or attachments in emails unless these are expected.
- Always scanning attachments before opening them.
4. Keep Software Up-to-Date
According to a report published by Symantec, the number of ransomware variants increased by 46% in 2017.
What that means is that cybercriminals are continuing to modify their ransomware so they can penetrate any enhancements made by software developers.
That’s why it’s essential to make sure that you update not just your security software program but all the software programs installed on your computer and website whenever you get a notification. Better yet, set all your software programs to automatically install updates as soon as they’re released. Doing this avoids even a sliver of time that hackers can exploit to infiltrate your computer network and website.
5. Review your Error Messages
Every now and then, your web hosting service can undergo some system maintenance and upgrades that can cause error messages to appear on your website. Unfortunately, in addition to providing a reason for the error, these messages can also include highly sensitive information.
For cybercriminals, this is a goldmine of information that they can use to infiltrate and compromise your website.
Make sure that you disable these errors by accessing them in your website’s backend or by creating a php.ini file and uploading this to your website’s File Manager.
6. Protect your Computer Network
Invest in a robust and comprehensive business security solution package to keep your computers and network safe and secure.
By that I mean not just getting the latest anti-virus and anti-malware products available. Choose one that includes services like website penetration testing and malware cleanup. Not only will these help you find and address any malware that may have already made its way onto your system, but it will also make sure that all your hardware and software are healthy and secure.
7. Backup Frequently
When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was hit by ransomware back in 2016, they were able to recover all of its files and get their system up and running. All this without having to pay the hefty $73,000 ransom demand.
How did they do this?
The answer is simple: they religiously backed up all their files.
Indeed, having a good backup strategy is perhaps one of the best ways to protect your online business. When you have all of your files backed up, you can quickly restore these and get your business up and running again as soon as your system is cleaned up.
This is one of the few instances when going old school is best. Instead of merely storing your files in a cloud storage drive, take the time to download these and save them on CDs. Sure, this takes a lot longer than just sending them up to the cloud. But by doing this, you can be absolutely sure your backup media are not infected by ransomware when you get hit.
As ransomware continues to spread and wreak havoc, you must be more vigilant than ever to protect your online business from attacks. Taking the time to implement these seven steps will help you stay one step ahead of these cybercriminals.
Photo via Shutterstock
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