Ransomware - You Could Be Next

July 3, 2017


For the second time in the last two months, computer systems around the world were infected by devastating ransomware. In May, literally hundreds of thousands of computers, across 150 countries were infected by the WannaCry Ransomware. Just last week, another virus called Petya/NotPetya caused massive failures in private and public industries throughout the world. Both viruses accessed systems through similar security holes . . . holes, that were patched by Microsoft over a year ago!


These attacks have underscored the fact that most companies DO NOT update their security systems on a regular basis. Whether it’s due to cost, lack of sufficient technology support, or because your IT staff is just spread too thin, these oversights can put you out of business overnight. These viruses encrypt the files on your systems and offer to send you the de-encryption code, for a hefty fee (which they take and rarely send the code for!) To be blunt, there is no “fix” for these attacks. Once your files are encrypted, there is no recovery for them. You will need to wipe your systems and re-install from a reliable backup to get going again. That can be a loss of thousands of man-hours and, God-Only-Knows, how much potential revenue loss to your firm.


I fully understand the time and costs that go along with trying to stay ahead of the endless parade of updates, patches, and hotfixes that roll in for your OS, mail system, anti-virus, etc. We can’t all afford a dedicated IT staff to constantly stay on top of it all. At least, not if we ever want to get any actual work done, or have any chance at profits come the end of the year! What’s a business owner to do then? How do you stay a step ahead of the hackers and protect your vital business assets, without breaking the bank? Well, the recommendation I always give is to move to Cloud based computing. For most of my clients, that means moving fully into the Office 365 Business/Enterprise environment. There is a huge array of functional benefits to that move but let’s stay focused on the security it brings to your data.


You need to realize that neither of these ransomware attacks had any impact on Microsoft Cloud based structures, like Office 365 or Azure. The reason for that is simple: because they are all fully hosted, patched, and secured by Microsoft directly. The underlying infrastructure of Microsoft’s Cloud structures are updated regularly, on the back end, without you needing to do anything. You always have the latest, and most powerful, security features available without any additional costs. Microsoft Cloud data is hosted in the most secure facilities available and replicated, in real-time, to 40+ (and growing!) data centers across the world. Not just that but, in a worst-case scenario, if hackers should somehow push past that level of security, your information is held under a financially backed SLA . . . if it gets locked as ransomware, Microsoft pays the costs of rebuilding the data. That’s an important point to keep in mind when you consider how quickly ransomware spreads and how destructive it is. Every rational business owner should be actively moving towards a fully Cloud based environment or, at the very least, they should be looking at the following updates to their systems:

  1. Upgrade the Operating Systems on every device that touches your network: I recommend Windows 10 E3. It’s top of the line and very secure, plus it gives “per user” licensing which means you can buy one seat and install it on up to five (5) devices. Not only will it make you more secure, it may actively save you money!

  2. Move your email to Exchange Online: Email is the main entry point for malicious cyber-attacks and your mail server must be your top security priority. Exchange Online is a cloud based system, part and parcel of the Office 365 environment and is continuously updated and patched by Microsoft. It’s the best security there is on the market.

  3. Install Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security: This system secures any device that connects to your network. Tablets, smart phones, laptops, it doesn’t matter. EM + S lets your users even access with their personal devices but it keeps your business data separate from their personal, which is a key security factor, and it only costs a few dollars each month per user.

  4. Use Azure as backup and Disaster Recovery (DR) system: Regular backups to a secure and fully patched Azure facility is vital to fend off attacks against your network. Azure will also provide immediate DR fail-over to a secondary server, with recent backups, in case of a system loss, so your business can keep running no matter what.

  5. Move all your users to Office 365: This platform gives your users an immense pool of secure, cloud hosted, tools that are never out of date and all data is constantly polled for security issues. The collaborative nature of a Cloud system like Office 365 also lets your users share secure links to shared files, rather than constantly emailing attachments back and forth, which is the most dangerous security flaw of all!


Let me sum this up by pointing out that both ransomware variants were hacked from the NSA, where they had been developed as tools against cyber-terrorism. That shows the level of hacking ability out there is horrifying and that attacks like this aren’t going away. If anything, they’re likely to increase. The very nature of warfare, whether physical, or cyber, guarantees one thing: whatever weapon you deploy, your enemy will build a bigger and more effective one to counter it. The problem of course is that our businesses are the innocent by-standers caught in the crossfire. The only thing we can do is hunker down in the most secure hole we can find and hope there isn’t a virus out there with our name on it!


Stay safe, all!


Jim C.


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