Engaging employees in tackling cyber threats could be your best defence, writes Julian Shaw, Technical Director at Arden Group
Given the scale and complexity of today’s digital landscape, the threat of cyber crime poses great risks. One of the most disruptive forms of malware attacks is ransomware, which is being widely used by cyber criminals to encrypt files and effectively hold them hostage until a ransom is paid. This was evident with the recent ‘WannaCry’ and ‘Petya’ attacks, which affected organisations including the NHS, FedEx and advertiser WPP, infecting computers in more than 150 countries. Ransomware has the potential to cause far-reaching problems for organisations, hampering their ability to operate, compromising the security of personal data and damaging their reputations, not to mention being costly to rectify.
In the event of a ransomware attack, specific files are encrypted on the infected device, as well as removable devices and all accessible network drives soon after the initial exposure, As the malware also frequently deletes automatic back-ups of the Windows operating system, it prevents data recovery and makes files completely inaccessible.
For most organisations, one of the first steps to staying cyber safe is to put robust technological solutions in place, including email gateway, anti-spam and anti-virus software. This can help to block email-born threats, while endpoint Anti-Malware and robust firewalls can neutralise web threats by blocking websites which are hosting ransomware.
But with advancements in cyber crime being made all the time and the digital landscape constantly shifting, strides towards cyber security shouldn’t be solely focused on technological solutions. With cyber criminals regularly targeting channels which are commonly used day-to-day, including emails, employees could be unwittingly compromising the security of their organisations’ data.
Minimising the potential for human error
With malicious content now being harder than ever to spot due to cyber criminals infecting commonly-visited websites and crafting emails which are indistinguishable from genuine ones, the potential for human error is constantly growing. And while technological advancements can go some way towards protecting organisations from crimes of this nature, not every scenario can be planned for.
Doing something as simple as opening an email which appears to be genuine, or even visiting a legitimate website which has been infected with an exploit kit, ransomware is able to take hold within computer systems. This makes it easy for mistakes to happen, leaving security systems vulnerable to ransomware attacks and putting power into the hands of cyber criminals.
And with technology opening up opportunities for employees to work more remotely – potentially connecting devices to unsecured external networks or sharing documents to personal devices – the risks are even greater, particularly if employees aren’t aware of any procedures designed to limit the extent to which security breaches can occur.
As a crucial layer in keeping organisations secure, it is vital that employees are appropriately trained, subsequently generating awareness of potential risks, and knowledge of how to reduce their impacts.
Tips for staying cyber safe
Alongside an emphasis on training to complement technological solutions, organisations can go a step further to combat the threats posed by today’s highly complex digital landscape. By implementing best practice techniques for employees to follow, other precautions will be bolstered.
Encouraging employees to be cautious about unsolicited email attachments is one way of limiting the extent to which malicious emails can infect digital systems. By enabling file extensions, files can be identified without the need to open them, and using tools like Microsoft Office viewers for documents such as Word and Excel means the contents of files can be seen without internal macros being enabled. This takes away the opportunity for any malware hidden within documents to infect important systems.
Performing regular file back-ups will also provide an extra layer of security in the event of a ransomware attack, but to be extra safe it is recommended that files are backed up off-line and off-site. While this limits the power of cyber criminals to extort money in return for access to encrypted files, having back-ups will be useful in a whole variety of circumstances. Floods, theft and accidentally deleting something important – we’ve all been in a situation where we’d hoped for a reliable back-up.
When malware doesn’t access systems through documents, it will generally rely on security bugs in popular applications. This could include web browsers, Flash and Microsoft Office to name just a handful. But by patching regularly, there will be fewer security gaps to be exploited, helping to keep important data out of the hands of cyber criminals.
Looking forward, cyber security will play an ever-greater role for organisations, regardless of their size or sector. This is partly due to the complex nature of the cyber landscape, but also reforms such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will have particular repercussions in the event of lost Personally Identifiable data when it is enacted next year.
To minimise the risk of security breaches and keep data and documents safe from cyber attacks, it is recommended that organisations seek support from external specialists. By working with a managed service provider, businesses can rest assured that their critical data is in safe hands. The provider will make it their duty to stay up-to-date with the latest threats and ensure provisions are in place to protect the organisation.
While employee education plays a key role in protecting businesses against cyber attack, the only real way to guarantee security is through the installation of the latest security software. In comparison to off the shelf products, which don’t take into consideration the specific needs of a business, a managed service provider such as Arden Group can conduct a full security audit on business systems and recommend a solution designed around its individual needs. The Sophos Synchronised Security Suite comes highly recommended as it’s the only security solution which can deliver a coordinated defence against sophisticated security breaches. Simply having end-point protection is no longer enough, particularly as malware is becoming more and more intelligent.
To find out more about Arden Group’s experience of supporting organisations to protect their data, visit www.arden-group.co.uk