What actually is Ransomware, and how can it ruin your business?

You may have noticed this word cropping up more frequently in the news; ‘Ransomware’, a portmanteau of ‘ransom’ and ‘software’. But what does it mean to you and your business, and how much of a threat can it be?

Wednesday, 18 August 2021 00:08

W T C Levers

While ransomware attacks date back to the late 80s, they have become exponentially more frequent, widespread, and devastating. Just as technology in general has become increasingly advanced - so, too, have the means for nefarious actors to access your data and hold it hostage until you pay up.

The most high profile of these attacks have disrupted infrastructure and destroyed livelihoods and are happening increasingly regularly. All of the biggest singular ransomware payouts have occurred in the past couple of years, but the huge number of low-key exploitations rival the cost of headline-grabbing examples when tallied up.

Ransomware is often targeted; delivered by phishing emails, texts, or internet pop-ups. Sometimes attacks are surgically precise, enacted specifically by individuals or groups. Other times, hackers will utilise botnets (bots are a type of software program designed to carry out a task, and they usually imitate human behaviour whilst doing so).

The benefit of using bots is much the same as replacing human workers with robots in the physical world; they're quicker, more precise and tireless. A network of these bots designed to, say - send out an email to thousands of addresses, falsely notifying the recipient of a bank account breach - can do so in seconds, and is able to repeat the task countless times.

Inevitably people get caught out, and their data can be exploited. And when it comes to smaller and medium enterprises, the pivot to largely online-based customer/client interaction means it is not only the data of your business and its employees at stake. Human error is usually to blame for data breaches and the crux of the issue is the general lack of awareness of the ways in which imposters are able  masquerade as trusted entities. 

Aside from phishing, ransomware can find its way into your system through a number of means. Infected files and programs, compromised websites and servers, brute force password attacks, and hackers utilising programs to remotely view your desktop - log your keystrokes - and enable access to secure data.

Ransomware can ruin your business in a number of ways - which largely depends on the extent of the data breach and the type of enterprise you run - and no matter the scale of your operation, the results of an attack can cause irreversible damage.

Even if you choose to pay the ransom, there's no guarantee you will get your data back. Your system - compromised, and ripe for racketeering - may result in further attacks and exploitation.

About the Author

W T C Levers

Freelance Journalist

Will has a wealth of experience across journalism, creative writing, music production, and photography.