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How to Prevent Ransomware and Denial of Service Attacks

Last month, a cyberattack using the WannaCry ransomware cryptoworm locked almost a quarter of a million systems across 150 countries. WannaCry affected Britain’s National Health Service, Spain’s telecommunications giant Telefonica, Japan’s Nissan, China’s PetroChina and FedEx in America, among thousands of other businesses. Though the cyberattack was halted by Microsoft’s speedy security patch and a blogger’s discovery of a kill switch, thousands of dollars were paid in just four days as businesses scrambled to get their data back.

Though WannaCry was the most prolific ransomware attack to date, it is not a new concept. Hackers and other cybercriminals have used this technology since 2012 to extort hundreds to thousands of dollars from multinational corporations, governments, small businesses, and even individuals. Some ransomware is relatively easy to reverse, others are all but impossible, but all the programs encrypt important data and give administrators an ultimatum: pay up or the data will either stay encrypted, be deleted or be publicly published.

Last October, a different kind of cyberattack took place, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack focused on a significant domain provider, Dyn. This attack effectively prevented stalled over half of the Internet in America and parts of Europe, more than 100 websites including Amazon, major news outlets, PayPal, Reddit, Twitter, Visa, and the Swedish government website. The attack was conducted by hijacking Internet of Things (IoT) devices like printers and IP cameras, and turning the devices into a concentrated traffic stream which overwhelmed Dyn. As most IoT devices use little to no malware defense, they are easy targets that can be hijacked by hackers with relatively little experience.

What does all this mean for businesses?

Ransomware attacks are expected to rise, and WannaCry is only the tip of the iceberg. While some businesses think paying the ransom is a small expense to get their data back, security experts and authorities agree paying the ransom is useless. There is no guarantee businesses will get their data back, the payment will only embolden cyber criminals, and there is no telling who or what the payment funds. The best solution is preventing ransomware before it starts; keeping all software updated to patch any vulnerabilities, maintaining regular backups and verifying that the backups are usable, strictly managing administrative access, and educating all employees about phishing and ransomware prevention. For more information on ransomware prevention visit https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/incidents-of-ransomware-on-the-rise.

With more IoT devices coming online in homes and businesses, DDoS attacks are also expected to rise. As these attacks have, so far, only temporarily disabled websites, many of which are recreational, IoT cyber security remains a low priority and DDoS attacks have not generated the same amount of concern or coverage as ransomware. However, as DDoS attacks require little sophistication and the architecture of domain directories makes them almost impossible to prevent, DDoS attacks are poised to become a costly, wide-reaching event manipulated only by the whims of novice hackers. Businesses may be the frontline forces potentially preventing a surge in DDoS attacks by demanding cyber security on the IoT devices they implement and the technology they bring to their consumer products.

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