Ransomware on the Rise

October 10, 2016
By Cornerstone Staff

Written by:
Lara K. Forde, Esq., CIPP/US
Matt Peranick, CIPP/US, CIPP/CA

Ransomware is now the number one security concern for businesses. Estimates from the FBI put ransomware on pace to be a $1 billion dollar source of income for cyber criminals this year. The ransoms have doubled over the past year as studies show almost one half of businesses surveyed have been targeted, and more and more often are paying the demand.

Hospitals, school districts, law firms, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, and small businesses—these are just some of the entities frequently targeted by ransomware. Ransomware is a popular type of malware recently that encrypts, or locks, all files it can find and demands a ransom to release them.

Not being able to access critical data can be catastrophic for organizations. Ransomware can impact a business in terms of lost data or proprietary information, disruption to business operations, financial costs to restore systems and files, and the potential harm to their reputation.

In a typical ransomware attack, victims will open a phishing e-mail that contains the ransomware. Victims may click on an attachment that appears legitimate, like an invoice or an electronic fax, but which actually contains the malicious ransomware code. Other times, the e-mail might contain a legitimate-looking URL, but when a victim clicks on it, they are directed to a website that infects their computer with ransomware.

Once ransomware is downloaded, it begins encrypting files and folders on local drives, any attached drives, backup drives, and potentially other computers on the same network that the victim computer is attached. Users and organizations are generally not aware they have been infected until they can no longer access their data, or until they begin to see computer messages advising them of the attack and demands for a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. These messages include instructions on how to pay the ransom, usually with bitcoins because of the anonymity this virtual currency provides.

Ransomware attacks are not only increasing; they’re becoming more sophisticated. Several years ago, ransomware was normally delivered through spam e-mails. However, since e-mail systems have advanced spam-filtering techniques, cyber criminals have turned to spear phishing e-mails targeting specific individuals.

Prevention Efforts

  • Make sure employees are aware of ransomware and of their critical roles in protecting the organization’s data. (i.e. Share this article with fellow employees.)
  • Patch operating system, software, and firmware on digital devices (which may be made easier through a centralized patch management system).
  • Ensure antivirus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically update and conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts. (i.e. No users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed.)
  • Configure access controls, including file, directory, and network share permissions appropriately. (i.e. If users only need read specific information, don’t give write-access to those files or directories.)
  • Disable macro scripts from office files transmitted over e-mail.
  • Implement software restriction policies or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations. (e.g. temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers, compression/decompression programs.)

Business Continuity Efforts

  • Back up data regularly and verify the integrity of those backups.
  • Periodically test the effectiveness of your backup restoration procedures so you can ensure a rapid recovery.
  • Secure your backups. Make sure they aren’t connected to the computers and networks they are backing up.


© 2016 ePlace Solutions, Inc.

ePlace Solutions, Inc.

Founded in 1999, ePlace Solutions, Inc. (ePlace) is an industry-leading risk management consulting firm focused on preventing data breaches and mitigating the costs and damages of security incidents. ePlace’s risk management services deliver resources, best practices and practical guidance to help organizations effectively manage cyber risks. ePlace currently provides pre-breach cyber risk management services to over 20,000 organizations throughout the United States and serves as the risk management provider for leading cyber insurance carriers.

ePlace is a risk management information and consulting service, not a law office. Neither ePlace nor the attorneys on staff at ePlace are providing legal advice. The materials and advice available through ePlace are provided “as is” and without any warranties or conditions of any kind either express or implied.

ePlace Solutions, Inc.
410 W. Fallbrook Avenue, Suite 105
Fresno, CA 93711


Cornerstone Staff

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