Securing Your Organization Against Ransomware Attacks
Securing Your Organization Against Ransomware Attacks

Nigerian businesses continue to reap immense gains from deploying contemporary digital technologies in the design and execution of their processes. But these tools aren’t always insulated from potential sabotage. Malicious actors may find vulnerabilities in those technologies, and exploit such weaknesses to wreak havoc on the organizations that use them.

One way that cybercriminals do this is by targeting their victims with ransomware. Over the past decade, cyberattacks involving ransomware have grown in number, and have become more sophisticated. These attacks hit SMEs and large corporations, and even public sector agencies, and costs them tens of millions of naira.

If you are a business or an institution in Nigeria, you should be concerned about ransomware and the damage it could cause you.

Ransomware: A Brief Introduction

Ransomware is a program that blocks access to its victim’s files until the victim pays a ransom. Cybercriminals infect a target’s computer with it, aiming to extort a specific amount of money from that target in return for restored access, in a manner akin to a kidnap-for-ransom.

Typically, the perpetrator would send ransomware disguised as a harmless file to victims. If the target downloads or opens the file, it infects their system. The program may be spread through email attachments, malicious URLs, remote desktop protocol, and even malicious advertising.

Newer ransomware types can self-propagate across a network, potentially infecting every system used in an organization. They are capable of shutting down entire businesses.    

Ransomware Attacks Are Fairly Common

Reports on the state of IT and the contemporary business environment reveal that ransomware attacks are fairly common across the globe. Not surprisingly, they are usually concentrated on businesses.  

In 2020 alone, there were an estimated 304 million ransomware attacks worldwide. This was up 62% on the previous year. According to the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team, there was “a seven-fold jump” in the number of reported ransomware incidents in the first half of 2020.

Some of that spike in activity was attributed to cyber criminals trying to exploit lapse IT security during the COVID-19 pandemic; their targets were predominantly remote workforces. However, these incidents have numbered in the hundreds of millions per year since 2016.

Nigerian organizations have been affected. A report by the Sophos Group, a UK-based security software and hardware security firm, revealed that 53% of the Nigerian businesses it surveyed had been victims of ransomware in 2019.

Of the businesses hit, about 38% of them admitted to paying the attackers to regain access to their files. However, the Sophos report indicated that these payments didn’t always result in the victims recovering all their resources.

A Few Well-Known Ransomware Attacks

In 2019 and 2020, many companies worldwide were targeted by ransomware called Ryuk. It is spread via malicious emails that contain dubious links or attachments. If successfully deployed on an organization’s computers, it can request a ransom of more than $300,000. As of January 2021, cybercriminals had reaped more than $150 million from Ryuk.     

Three years before this, another ransomware, Petya, began infecting computers in several countries. It denied users access to their Operating Systems and demanded a $300 ransom from them. A later version did not unlock the infected system even after the ransom was paid.   

The most infamous ransomware attack to date involved the WannaCry program, which infected more than 200,000 computers in over 150 countries. In May 2017, it spread across the world fairly rapidly, affecting both businesses and public institutions. The global cost of the attack is believed to have exceeded $4 billion. 

Since the first known ransomware was created in 1989, several more have been designed and deployed, to devastating effect.  

Organizations Incur Significant Costs from Ransomware Attacks

The cost of recovering from a ransomware attack has doubled in the past year. The cumulative global cost was well over $1 billion in 2020 alone.

Sophos says that these incidents cost mid-sized businesses an average of $133,000 annually. Some companies incurred several million dollars in recovery costs. In many cases, this expenditure racks up from multiple incidents. 

The most hard-hit sectors included media, IT and telecoms, and energy/oil and gas utilities. The public sector was the least frequently targeted. Regardless, organizations in these domains have spent large amounts of money on damages inflicted by ransomware.

Unfortunately, many SMEs are unable to bear the financial weight of recovery. At least 1 in 5 of these businesses shut down within a year of suffering an attack. Bigger companies are better able to cope, but they too aren’t immune from the burden that such events bring.

How to Protect Your Organization Against Ransomware

The threat of a ransomware attack is ever-present. You will do well to prepare for an attempted strike against you.

Map your assets and note the degrees to which each one is vulnerable to an attack. Work with your IT team to prepare a resilience plan, complete with data backup, business continuity, and recovery strategies.

Also, ensure that the latest Operating Systems patches are applied when they become available, and update critical software as soon as is possible. Carry out penetration tests to determine where the weak points are, and fix them.

Adopt enhanced passwords and multi-factor authentication for staff at your organization. Train them to verify emails and other messages before engaging with them, and not to open websites unless they have a URL that begins with ‘HTTPS’ (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). The last ‘s’ is crucial; it indicates a secure site.  

A Partner You Can Trust

Ransomware attacks have grown more sophisticated and precise over time. If you have sensitive data to protect, you will want to work with IT security experts to set up a strong defense for your organization.

Layer3 provides this expertise through its cybersecurity services. With our IT risk vulnerability and management, email authentication, and network access solutions, you can build a strong buffer against various kinds of cyber threats, including ransomware.

To find out more about our IT security offerings, or the other services we provide, you can contact us here.     

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