#Asia Startups beware: Ransomware might just wipe out all your data

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Shit just got real for Philippine SMEs. Without proper security safeguards and business continuity measures in place, anyone can fall victim to costly ransomware

62620512 - ransomware at laptop

For the longest time, I considered ransomware a sort of boogeyman this side of the Pacific. Many of us get to read about it but I had yet to encounter an actual business being victimised by this form of cyberattack.

Not until recently.

One member of a local Facebook tech group inquired about how to solve a ransomware problem. Apparently, the victim  supposedly clicked a link from a spam email while at the office. The attachment then triggered a ransomware script that encrypted all the files across the computers connected to the office network, including their main server that contained backups. The files included sensitive and business-critical data.

Now, the company is allegedly requiring the employee to pay for damages, including the hefty ransom being demanded.

While this may be a one-sided account of what happened, the story just underscores what plagues many SMEs – poor IT management.

Security not a priority

Many commenters in that Facebook post immediately pointed out the possible lapses of the company’s IT. The use of personal email for work purposes is readily suspect. Network security is also questionable since the malware was able to access all computers connected to the network. In addition, there seems to be a misconception of central repositories being ‘backups’.

All of these point to poor IT practices.

Also Read: Why you need to talk to your team about data security

Many portions of business processes today rely heavily on tech, so IT management should automatically be part of these processes. Unfortunately for many SMEs and even enterprises, like in the case of the Philippines, IT is among those that is often relegated to a low priority, in terms of resources and attention.

For example, a functioning desktop and software to handle illustration and animation costs around an entry-level designer’s yearly salary. And that is just equipment to enable a single staff member to function. So it is no surprise that other facets of IT infrastructure like security often take a backseat.

Dedicated IT staff can also be expensive to resource. While some SMEs would put some money into an IT team, these personnel are often composed of technicians whose skill sets only involve basic hardware and software servicing, like assembly and disassembly of desktops, installation of software and setting up the network. It is also not uncommon for a single technician to service a company of 20 to 50 employees.

Threats and costs are real

Threats are real. Treating security like insurance where you just hope the proverbial shit does not hit the fan is very dangerous business. That is especially true today where all sorts of cyberattacks can hit any business of any size. Just take the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that took down Dyn – a large internet services provider that serves the likes of Twitter, Zappos, and CNBC.

Also Read: Infographic: Most e-commerce sites are at risk of being hacked

Ransomware is also making its rounds even on social media. Vigilant Facebook groups are reminding users not to haphazardly click on attachments and links in Facebook messages, as some might be part of a spam campaign that pushes malicious images in the form of SVG files — these trick users into downloading the Nemucod malware Locky ransomware.

For businesses, downtime caused by cyberattacks is a terrible thing. A data breach for an organisation of 1,000 employees would cost more than half a million US dollars.

In the case of the story I cited above, the attacker was supposedly asking for an equivalent of US$ 24,000 in Bitcoin. For a small business in the Philippines, that could very well be a year’s worth of operating expenses. For an employee, that could be equivalent to two years’ salary or more!

What can be done

IT security involves the prevention, monitoring, and response to threats. Appointing at least a knowledgeable person to make sure these functions get done is a must — bigger organisations will need to delegate this responsibility to a Chief Information Security Officer or CISO.

Also Read: We recently implemented OKRs at e27; This is why every startup should do the same

Part of good IT management is educating staff on proper use of IT resources. The basic things like using (and updating) workstation anti-malware especially when plugging in storage devices, identifying spam vs. legitimate emails and websites, and avoiding clicking unknown links and attachments, should be part of regular staff onboarding, training and education.

Budget-friendly solutions are also available. There are free anti-malware and firewall applications available that can be installed on each workstation. Using cloud-based solutions will also be a viable option for startups. Such subscriptions already include maintenance and support tasks. For example, using G Suite (formerly Google Apps) already transfers the cost of office productivity software, storage, and email server to a per-user subscription fee.

Also Read: Arguments for and against the Philippine Cybercrime Law

As for the poor Facebook poster, I hope the issue gets resolved, and that the poor victim does not get the short end of the stick for lapses made by the company. Philippine law enforcement does cover cyberattacks and should be able to provide help to the company. For the rest of us, we just have to learn and apply good security practices.

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Featured Image Copyright: kaptn / 123RF Stock Photo

The post Startups beware: Ransomware might just wipe out all your data appeared first on e27.

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