Ransomware exposes poor data management practices

As ransomware attacks continue to proliferate, the soft underbelly of IT — how organizations often manage their data in a cavalier manner — is finally being exposed.

Ransomware combines social engineering techniques, malware, and encryption to take an organization’s data hostage. As this scourge continues, digital criminals are getting more sophisticated about selecting their victims. For a while, they focused on hospitals, which have lots of sensitive data they need to be able to readily access. Now it’s become apparent that police departments are also favorite targets for much the same reason.

The Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT) says ransomware represents nothing less than the weaponization of encryption. The problem is that the best defense against ransomware involves implementing best practices surrounding data protection. In theory, organizations that continuously back up and then archive data are only going to have a relatively small amount of risk to their data — assuming, of course, the place where they back up their data isn’t going to be infected by ransomware as well. Physical hard drive backups taken offsite daily is the best defense for smaller companies. A redundant online cloud backup makes the system loss-proof.

Unfortunately, many organizations have been betting that the data they put at risk is not worth the cost of using modern data protection techniques. Either because of inertia or some other budget priority, they continue to rely on flawed backup and recovery processes.

Of course, digital criminals know this. It’s the primary reason why so many of the ransom demands involve hundreds rather than thousands of dollars. Digital criminals are betting that many organizations would rather pay a few hundred dollars to gain access to encryption keys to recover their data than go to the trouble of implementing sound data protection processes.

But as the perils of ransomware become better understood, it’s also clear that many more organizations are becoming alarmed at the prospect of being held hostage by digital criminals. It’s not so much the cost of the ransom that troubles them as much as it is the damage that could be done to the reputation of their organization. A hospital or police department that falls victim to ransomware doesn’t inspire much public confidence.