Liz Alton

It takes just half a second to infect a computer with ransomware, but affected companies deal with the fallout for months. The FBI estimates that more than 4,000 ransomware attacks occur each day in the U.S. – representing a 300% increase over 2015 alone. What's more, cybercriminals can get started for just a small investment: Forbes  reports that one $39 program encrypts files, deploys from a variety of file formats, and deletes files at random intervals when the ransom isn't paid. Yet the price for companies affected by ransomware is much steeper. In addition to the ransom itself, companies facing ransomware are often unprepared for the true cost of dealing with attackers, getting systems back online and handling potential brand damage and lost productivity.

The Ransom is Expensive – But It's the Least Important Cost

Ransomware is a strain of malware that encrypts data on organizations' computers, servers or user devices, locking them down, before demanding payment of a ransom – often in Bitcoin or another non-traceable currency – in exchange for decrypting the data. According to the FBI, the costs of the ransom plus staff time in recovering the data averages about $330,000 per incident. The ransom itself varies, but is just a fraction of the costs that organizations face. One high-profile case required a Hollywood-based hospital to pay $17,000 to regain access to its data. Yet the financial outlay from paying the actual ransom typically costs far less than collateral damage.

Quantifying the Real Costs of Ransomware Attacks

Employees' productivity declines: Lost employee productivity is a major ransomware cost. When your team is unable to access email, customer information, and other essential systems, they're not able to get their work done and keep your business moving forward. According to the Aberdeen Group, the cost of downtime per hour ranges from $8,581 for small businesses to an astronomical $686,250 for enterprises. An outage of just one day can range between $205,944 and $16,470,000. Email continuity systems can keep your employees connected and working even during an attack.

Customers' access impacted: If locked down systems or encrypted data is linked to the customer experience, the financial damages can be further reaching. From brand damage to the inability to get customers what they need, lack of access to data can bring client-facing operations to a grinding halt. For example, in a healthcare setting clinical staff may be unable to access treatment or prescription data and need to send patients to another facility. Banks may be unable to accept deposits or provide accurate balance information via online banking portals. Customers who find out about ransomware attacks can develop negative brand associations and question both employee judgment and infrastructure security. It's hard to quantify the losses, but stock prices can drop and customers can take their business to the competition.

Potential regulatory and compliance fines: In certain industries, compromised data can be seen a security failing. Each breach or ransomware attack can lead to regulatory fines and penalties, such as in the healthcare industry or in banking. In healthcare, for example, HIPPA-covered organizations can face fines between $10,000 and $25,000 per incident – up to a maximum of $1 million per year. Nominal investments in the right solutions and employee training can help prevent ransomware attacks and recoup the investment many times over.

The cost of recovery and the potential for data damage: Restoring data after a ransomware attack isn't fail-proof or inexpensive. Key files may be deleted or inadvertently damaged during the restoration process. Bugs in the decryption software can lead to data losses. Even if decryption proceeds smoothly, businesses have to invest in IT staff time to get back online. Often a ransomware event also signals a complete forensic analysis of the current setup, network vulnerabilities and investments and strategies to prevent future issues which are time-consuming and potentially expensive.

Your team works hard to attract and serve your customers. Don't let a ransomware attack derail your business and have a negative impact on your bottom line. Mimecast's layered solution brings together email protection, business continuity and data replication capabilities into a single cloud solution that helps you protect against the threat of ransomware.

 Contact us today to learn more.

 

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Never Be A Ransomware Hostage

Infographic: Never Be a Ransomware Hostage

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More than 50 new types of malware used in ransomware attacks were released in the first half of 2016 alone. The pace of ransomware attacks is escalating. Nearly 40% of companies have been hit with ransomware attacks this year, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that the cost per incident is $330,000 when factoring ransomware, downtime, and data recovery. A viable cyber resilience strategy must take a layered approach to combat the realities of a much more complex malware environment.

It's not enough to focus on prevention. As new tools come on the market that allow non-technical criminals to enter the ransomware game for less than $40, businesses need to think about continuity planning before an attack occurs. Companies must think strategically about integrating a layered approach that defends on multiple fronts through targeted threat protection, data archiving and business continuity planning.

Email Ransomware Attack Prevention: 

The Wall Street Journal estimates that 99% of ransomware attacks begin with an email. Users download a file or click on a link that infects computers, servers or networks with malware. Data is then locked down or encrypted until a payment is made; then, hopefully, the criminals behind the attack provide an encryption key.

Protecting your email is the frontline defense system against ransomware attacks. Companies can focus on a handful of interrelated solutions to help decrease the chances of emails compromising their system:

  • Employ real-time scanning of all emails to help identify phishing and suspicious emails and links from questionable domains across email platforms and devices.
  • Intelligent sandboxing solutions scan all attachments before they are delivered to recipients, minimizing the chances of ransomware attacks.
  • Dynamic feedback alerts employees to potentially threatening emails, raising awareness and informing better decision-making.
  • Email policies, employee training and running tests ensure that team members make smart decisions and complying with company IT procedures.

Ensure Employees Can Continue to Work During an Attack: 

When a ransomware attack freezes your network and restricts access to data, productivity grinds to a halt. The losses can be staggering. One report from the Aberdeen Group estimates hourly losses ranging from $8,581 for small businesses to $686,250 for enterprises. Business continuity planning can keep your workers online and connected to email; with the right systems, employees and customers may be unaware that an attack is underway. Email continuity systems provide access to live and archived mail across devices, as well as contacts and calendars. Regular business operations can continue, while your IT team works behind the scenes to solve the problem.

Data Replication Capabilities: 

When criminals want to take your data hostage, one of the best strategies you have to defeat them is your data replication strategy. Consider developing an archiving strategy that backs up your data from local drives – as well as third-party providers – in completely separate and unreachable files. Use systems and policies that disconnect backups from the main network after they occur.

Not only does this ensure that your data isn't lost or damaged during a ransomware attack, but it gives your organization a broader range of choices when dealing with the perpetrators.

The statistics for ransomware today can be daunting – and it quickly becomes apparent that no single solution can help companies prevent these malware attacks. However, cyber resilience is built on a layered strategy that prioritizes protecting your email, educating employees, creating viable data replication strategies, and keeping your business online during and after attacks. Mimecast's layered solution brings together email protection, business continuity and data replication capabilities into a single cloud solution that helps you protect against the threat of ransomware. 

Contact us today to learn more.

Related Content:

Never Be A Ransomware Hostage

Infographic: Never Be a Ransomware Hostage

 

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There's a new threat in cybersecurity and it's aimed at the business world's biggest targets. The FBI estimates that Business Email Compromise (BEC) – CEO fraud or "whaling" - increased more than 270%.

The FT reports total potential global losses increased by $800 million in just six months. Also, Mimecast research found that 55% of companies experienced increased whaling attempts. Companies ranging from Ubiquiti Network to Snapchat have publicly admitted losing millions to these scams. What psychological and cultural factors make employees vulnerable to whaling and what can you do to prevent them?

Cyber criminals use sophisticated social engineering backed by meticulous research. It's easy to find information: Company websites provide executive names and biographies. Internal reporting relationships can be mapped on sites like LinkedIn.
Cyber criminals use sophisticated social engineering backed by meticulous research. It's easy to find information: Company websites provide executive names and biographies. Internal reporting relationships can be mapped on sites like LinkedIn.

How Do Criminals Conduct Their Research?

During whaling scams, a finance employee receives an email spoofed to look like it's coming from the CEO or CFO. The email requests a wire transfer and provides instructions for how to send it – usually confidentially or on short notice. An executive receives a request for information from a colleague that plays to their expertise. The requests look routine and convincing.

Cyber criminals use sophisticated social engineering backed by meticulous research. It's easy to find information: Company websites provide executive names and biographies. Internal reporting relationships can be mapped on sites like LinkedIn. Publicly traded companies sometimes even include bank names in their annual filings. Hackers' ability to put together a complete picture of the executive – including mining published articles and social updates for clues about communications styles – results in a very convincing portrayal.

The Employee-Side Psychology

Confusion and pressure: Confusion and pressure make employees more vulnerable to whaling scams. Requests from senior executives with confidentiality requests and short timelines don't leave room for follow-up. Considerable pressure – such as multiple emails and phone calls in a short time – amp up an employee's stress during the event.

Hierarchy and unwillingness to question authority: A cultural emphasis on efficiency and hierarchy leaves employees feeling like they'll get in trouble for verifying requests. Mid-level employees are often unwilling to challenge a request from the C-suite, especially when the request has been carefully targeted to look authentic.

The optimism bias: Harvard researcher Daniel Kahneman outlined a phenomenon called the optimism bias. People believe – despite knowing the risk – that they're less likely to be victims of a crime. Optimism leads you to believe the world is more benign than it really is, so when something looks fishy you chalk it up to non-harmful causes instead of asking questions.

Self-importance and ego: Whaling attacks geared at getting an executive to reveal information may play on ego and self-importance. From the desire to help to take pride in your expertise, flattery and genuine-sounding appeals for help play into your emotional vulnerabilities.

The Impact of Whaling Scams

Cybersecurity breaches don't just endanger your data. Beyond the financial impact, internal and external trust is eroded when your company falls for a whaling scam. There's the loss of money and brand damage to the public. An executive's reputation can be harmed. Employees who fall for whaling scams can find themselves out of a job; if not, their reputation's damaged, their judgment is questioned and there's always lingering concerns.

One executive who fell victim to a whaling scam noted in an interview with the BBC, "It's like when your house or apartment gets broken into. You feel vulnerable. People get into your life and they know things about you and you have no clue, and they take things from you."

Understanding the psychological factors that contribute to whaling scams can improve your efforts to combat them, from employee training to internal testing. The right tools can also help. Learn more about Mimecast's new Impersonation Protect service and how it can protect employees and financial assets from this type of fraud.

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