Don’t be mad at ransomware attackers, be grateful

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By Michelle Drolet

Founder & CEO

Ms. Drolet is responsible for all aspects of business for Towerwall. She has more than 24 years of,

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Falling victim to a ransomware attack is most definitely inconvenient, but it could also serve as a wake-up call to the importance of backing up important data.

You’re minding your own business, sitting at your office computer. Suddenly, a pop-up appears – with the logo of the FBI – warning that you’re under investigation for trafficking in child pornography. Your computer locks up. The message also instructs you to pay a fine with a gift card or money order, or risk being arrested. In return for the payment, your computer will be unlocked, the message says.

fbi warn

The goal of the ransomware thief is to extort a “fine” of $100 to $200, purportedly to be paid to the U.S. Department of Justice. Send it as a MoneyPak order, you’re told, and your computer will be unlocked. If you pay, you may receive a 10-digit password that allows you to unfreeze your computer. Or you may get nothing, or demands for more payoffs to the people who are holding your computer hostage. That’s why the virus is called “ransomware.”

The nerve of these criminals, you say. They lure me to open a file or click on something while surfing on the Internet and not only infect and disable my computer, stop me from working on files, then they ask me to cough up money to get a code so I can “unlock” my computer.
I say don’t get mad at them. Instead, ask yourself why you haven’t been backing up your data to a remote site, preferably in the cloud. Because if you regularly do this, you’re protecting your data from these cyber thugs, and a whole lot more.

Having duplicate copies of your most important information saved in a remote location keeps it safe in case anything goes wrong with your computer.
When you think about it, there are a number of ways files can be lost unexpectedly, beyond aggressive malicious viruses like ransomware:

  • Computer crashes. They always happen when you least need it, and can lead to data loss.
  • Hard drive failure. Hard drives have a finite lifetime and can fail suddenly and without warning. The sudden death of a hard drive can cause the painful loss of months or years of irreplaceable files and the timing can be catastrophic – if this happens close to a work deadline, it could be a nightmare scenario.
  • Physical computer damage. Your files are more at risk if you use a laptop. Light and portable comes at the price of reduced durability. Laptops are sensitive and are easily damaged if dropped or even just have drinks spilled over them.
  • Theft. Computers are sought after by thieves and cannot always be kept secure whilst travelling.

The bottom line is that if you value what’s kept on your computer, it’s wise to take steps to protect your information from sudden loss.
According to Minneapolis-based company Kroll Ontrack, 65% of survey respondents last year had a backup solution in place at the time of data loss, up 5% from 2013. Of those respondents, 59% used an external hard drive, 15% had cloud backup, and 10% used a tape backup system. Additionally, 55% said they diligently backed up their data on a daily basis.

So why did they still lose their data? Regardless of the solution or backup frequency, data loss may have occurred as a result of one of the following oversights and/or failures:

  • The external drive was only connected on an occasional basis; backup not automated
  • The computer was not on during a scheduled backup and not configured to perform at a different time
  • The backup software failed
  • The backup ran out of destination space
  • The backup profile did not cover all of the device, requiring backup
  • A file was lost before a scheduled backup occurred

Many users regularly back up their files to their computer hard drive, and it’s always a good practice to use encryption when backing up your data in the cloud.
Saving data to a separate location makes good sense and can be done easily if you have an external hard drive or a large-capacity pen drive. However, this method is only as secure as the device you’re using for backup. When saving your files on physical devices, the backup device needs to be kept in a different location than the computer, and can in turn fall victim to damage or loss. Despite your best intentions, you may forget to copy your files as often as you should, leaving a large amount of recent work unprotected. Online backup is a safer and more effective method of securing files.
Files stored online are safe from damage to your computer, and if something goes wrong with your machine you will still have remote access to your information from any computer with internet access. This means files can be quickly and easily restored to your computer from a secure online server.
So, instead of wanting to launch your fist into the face of a ransomware thief, maybe a ‘thank you’ is in order. The ransomware thief’s shenanigans enable data security specialists to shine a spotlight on best practices for regularly backing up data. In addition to rendering a ransomware attack inconsequential, cloud back up provides peace of mind.

This article was recently published in Network World.
Imagery credit: cutcaster