These are quite ingenious attempts by hackers to get into the system to steal data.These are quite ingenious attempts by hackers to get into the system to steal data.

By Shriya Roy

As the world adjusts to the work-from-home culture, companies and businesses are facing a new challenge in the form of cyber attacks and ransomware. There has been a dramatic increase, in fact, in the number of cyber attacks over the past few months, affecting both small and large businesses and individuals. Be it payments and shopping or sharing files and accessing VPN, the pandemic has opened up new avenues for scammers and fraudsters to hoodwink individuals and businesses.

Ransomware attacks have seen a tremendous rise during this period. Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts a victim’s file. The attacker then demands a ransom in exchange for restoring access to data. Cybersecurity firm Sophos in its report titled The State of Ransomware 2020 reveals that 82% of Indian organisations were hit by ransomware in the last six months. The report also mentions that about 66% of organisations paid the ransom, while 29% were able to recover their data from backups without paying any ransom.

The Indian government has also warned against a large-scale cyber attack against individuals and businesses, where attackers may use Covid as a bait to steal personal and financial information. Cybersecurity agency CERT-In issued an advisory warning that the potential phishing attacks could impersonate government agencies and departments that have been tasked to oversee disbursement of government fiscal aid. The advisory noted that the hackers are claiming to have over two million email IDs and are planning to send emails, giving the bait of free Covid testing. “Such emails are designed to drive recipients towards fake websites where they are deceived into downloading malicious files or entering personal and financial information,” the CERT-In advisory said.

The increasing risk has proved one thing: a cyber attack can happen to anyone and anywhere. No one and no data is safe. Therefore, individuals and organisations must follow certain steps and be extremely cautious to prevent their data from being stolen. The first and basic step is to secure the hardware. With much attention given to acquiring the newest and most sophisticated types of cyber security software, often the security of company hardware is overlooked. But one needs to protect device with a complicated password. And do not repeat the password on different sites, changing it regularly.

Apart from anti-virus software, users should also install anti-spyware and anti-malware software. Malware and spyware can do as much damage to your network as a virus. A software program that is tasked with a specific purpose, such as to find and remove spyware or malware, allows for a more focused attack against those threats.

Another important and effective cyber protection strategy is to encrypt and back up data. Data encryption remains the most efficient fix for data breaches.

Companies must also check that the data encryption software is activated and updated on all company devices, even those that are being used remotely. After encryption, backing up all data will protect security breaches. As ransomware hackers lock companies out of their systems, encrypting the data and asking for a ransom, the company can stay one step ahead by backing up all data and storing it separately.

Cyber criminals continue to work tirelessly to find more advanced ways of breaching security defenses and, therefore, even the most security-conscious businesses remain at risk of an attack. The losses incurred from data breaches can be mitigated by investing in cyber security insurance.

Organisations should also have a full list of devices connected to their network and ensure that latest security updates are installed on all of them. They should also make sure that all employees are cautious about unsolicited attachments and other phishing attacks. Companies must take it on themselves to educate employees about unsecured networks. This is even more important in present times, as more and more employees work from home remotely on networks that might not be as secure as those in the offices.

Restricting IT admin and access rights to a small handful of users is valuable in minimising the risk of data breaches. It is also advisable to not stay logged in longer than necessary as an administrator or while using a VPN. One should also avoid browsing, opening documents or other regular activities while being connected.

It is important to know that all it takes is one click of the mouse for the computer to become infected with spyware. There are many websites that are camouflaged to look like real websites. When entering URLs, users must make sure to check the name of the website and absolutely avoid clicking on popups, ads and links to other websites. These are quite ingenious attempts by hackers to get into the system to steal data.

Another easy way that companies can adopt to stop staff clicking on a ransomware link in an email is using content scanning and email filtering, which ought to take care of many phishing and ransomware scams before they actually reach the staff.

Furthermore, IT administrators can make it harder by segmenting networks, and also by limiting and securing the number of administrator accounts, which have wide-ranging access. To reduce the risk of downloading ransomware, do not download software or media files from unknown websites. Go to verified, trusted sites to download something and avoid giving out any sort of personal data on the internet. Keep the software and operating system updated. But even after all this if an attack does happen, make sure to disconnect from any network drives and the internet. This isolates the attacked computer and minimises the chance of the ransomware infection spreading to other computers.

Even after taking all the necessary precautions, there can still be a cyber attack. One can’t predict that, as just like the IT experts, the hackers are also innovating and devising new ways to get into the system. But as they say, better safe than sorry.

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