Can We Stop Ransomware?

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Can We Stop Ransomware?

How do you stop Ransomware from creating havoc for corporations and individuals alike? An interesting article recently appeared in The Verge and took a philosophical approach to this issue that terrifies organizations and takes over news reports. While the article offers many solutions, none of them are comprehensive or without challenges. We unpacked some of these possibilities in a recent Between the Bytes podcast.

Defining the Problem

Before we begin, let’s define what we mean by ransomware.

Ransomware: Malware (malicious software) that infiltrates an organization’s systems and targets its databases and servers. It then encrypts that data, rendering it inaccessible unless the organization agrees to pay a ransom to the hackers.

It was estimated that ransomware cost the world $20 billion in 2021, with an attack hitting a business every 11 seconds. Ransomware is such a popular form of cybercrime because it’s so lucrative. One recent attack, the Kaseya breach that targeted an IT solutions developer in July 2021, cost the victims an estimated $70 million.

Pushing for Transparency

Many experts have speculated that one reason why ransomware thrives is that it often goes unreported. There is a natural reluctance of victim organizations to reveal that their data has been compromised because they feel it will harm the public’s trust in them, thus further damaging their business. Transparency advocates claim that this silence only exacerbates the problem. They contend that forcing companies to report ransomware attacks and payments to the FBI publicly would shine a spotlight on the extent of the crime. If government officials and consumers realized just how significant a threat ransomware really is, there would be a public outcry and a resulting outlay of enforcement resources to defeat it.
On the other hand, those who argue against mandating full disclosure claim that it would be giving hackers exactly what they want – publicity that would further fuel fear. They also argue that enforcement of such a policy would not be feasible. They note that it’s difficult to hide when something happens on the scale of a Kaseya breach that targets an IT solutions provider for managed IT services firms. When a breach hits a small, private organization, it can usually slide under the radar.

Prohibiting Payments

Another idea that’s been floated is making ransom payments illegal. It’s estimated that about 25% of victims end up paying the ransom, primarily because they are desperate to access their data. While, in theory, if everyone agreed not to pay, the problem would go away; ransomware is debilitating, and it completely bans access to all of a company’s data. For many organizations -particularly smaller ones without access to sophisticated network support resources which might be able to devise workarounds – not paying would mean going out of business. Because of that harsh reality, there will always be a percentage of companies who pay the ransom, which is enough to keep hackers going.

Following the Money

Another option some advocate is following the money once ransom payments are made. Unfortunately, payment is almost universally demanded in cryptocurrency since it’s challenging to track. Some voices advocate banning cryptocurrency because of its propensity to be used for illegal activities, but that’s an unviable solution based on misunderstandings. Cryptocurrencies are far too widespread and too diverse to be effectively banned. While some cryptos are billed as privacy coins, others, like Bitcoin, are open-source, decentralized currencies that can be traced, and hackers have been caught when law enforcement has done so.
Instead of an outright ban on crypto, some voices call for more regulation. That is ironic since crypto was founded as an unregulated form of currency. Plus, there’s the logistics of getting disparate governments to agree to international regulation. On the practical side, in places like China, where strict regulation is implemented, it has pushed crypto underground, not eliminating it. Even if you could eliminate or regulate crypto, there’s nothing to stop ransomware hackers from simply asking victims for another form of payment.

Don’t be afraid to report

If we as a global community want to stop ransomware, this is one of the most important steps to accomplishing that goal. Embarrassment is one of the main things that allows this crime to thrive. There are far more costs involved than paying the actual ransom – and public perception is one of the highest. Once your organization has lost a customer’s trust, will they ever come back? Will they judge your company’s performance based on your IT challenges, or will they recognize the excellence of the services you have delivered to them in the past? In reality, no organization is immune. Admitting that you were attacked and revealing what you are doing to rectify it will go a long way toward rebuilding public trust.
Having a plan in place before an attack occurs can help you navigate these challenging waters. Work with a cybersecurity company and your IT services team to develop an action plan. They can help you build layers of protection and help ensure that individual employees know what to be aware of to mitigate your risk of a ransomware attack. They can help you minimize the damage if you are victimized.
This article was written from one of our podcast episodes on Between The Bytes!

To learn more about protecting you and your business from cybersecurity threats, check out our Ultimate Guide To Cybersecurity!

The Ultimate Guide To Cybersecurity

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