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What to do if you receive a ransomware threat

As technology becomes more advanced, so do the threats and techniques of scammers and criminals looking to defraud others.

Diane Hall


Ransomware red button on a black keyboard

A relatively new approach by criminals has caused many small business owners to become worried about the security of their content and their reputation.

Ransomware uses software to infiltrate and/or encrypt files so that no one but the criminals can access them, until a ransom is paid by the owner. It’s different to a virus, the main aims of which are to cause damage to a victim’s computer system and to multiply.

Ransomware doesn’t try and hide the fact it’s from shady characters intent on squeezing money from you. The first inkling that you’re a victim is usually a direct threat via email. The message will suggest that the sender knows the password(s) of the business’s website(s) or security-protected files the owner has created/accessed. Unless the business owner pays the specified ransom (often in bitcoin, as this can be harder to track), access to their website/files remains off-limits and/or the confidential information made public and distributed across the internet.

As you can imagine, this poses a huge worry for the business owner. If an e-commerce business, no access to its website/files could result in a loss of sales and its hard-earned reputation. If confidential information is infiltrated by the criminals, there could be legal repercussions for the business owner as well as a huge loss of trust if the content became available to anyone and everyone.

Other ways ransomware can infiltrate your computer systems is if people visit suspect, fake or infected websites/apps.

Though these scenarios sound like the script of a feature film, they’re more common than you may think. And if you believe criminals would only target large corporations, think again. They’re just as likely to go after a small business, because they know that the owner will have few resources to combat the threat and will pay up, and because the security of said smaller enterprises will likely be fragile—if they even have any.

So, how do you protect against ransomware?

Laptop computer with Padlock and Chain

Laptop computer with Padlock and Chain

There are a few things you should do, starting with forming a cyber-security plan. It needs a joined-up approach and the training of all your staff—because there’s no point actioning one or two methods and ignoring the rest.

  • Have a decent spam filter on all incoming messages

  • Arrange training to ensure your staff can recognise suspect emails and fake websites

  • Install good virus protection software across all the digital devices used by the company

  • Uninstall/delete any app that allows remote access by anyone outside of the business, e.g. ‘Microsoft’s Remote Desktop’

  • Install software updates on your computer, your apps and the plug-ins you use as soon as they become available

  • Ensure everyone in the company backs up their files at the end of each day

Though the actioning of these points won’t guarantee that you will never be the victim of ransomware, they will lessen the risk considerably. Whether you’re a one-man-band, a medium-sized business with a few employees or a large conglomerate, it’s equally important to protect your business.

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