accounting and cybersecurity

Are you prepared for a ransomware attack?  

If the answer is “no” – and it probably is – then now is the time to get ready. Ransomware attacks are on the rise, and every business is a possible target.  

Preparation and prevention are the keys to avoiding the dire consequences – the costs, leaks of personal information, heightened risks of a second attack and even the possibility of breaking anti-terrorism laws through compliance with the attacker’s demands. 

We’ve all read about ransomware attacks, but few people know how they occur, how to respond and how to prevent an attack. Join Surgent to learn the truth about ransomware, so you can strengthen your defenses and avoid common mistakes in case of an attack. 

What is ransomware? 

The headlines are gut-churning. Fuel pipelines are shutting down. Cities are grinding to a halt. Health systems are disrupted.  

Ransomware attackers go straight for the heart. Understanding the basics is the first step in preparing for an attack. Ransomware is a malicious software implanted to encrypt a victim’s files. Ransomware locks up the data, and the attacker holds the key to unlock it – for a price, of course. 

Ransomware attacks are on the rise, skyrocketing 232% since 2019, according to cybersecurity firm, SonicWall. The FBI’s nearly 2,500 ransomware complaints in 2020 were a 20 percent increase from the previous year. Costs for those reports zoomed from $8.9 million in 2019 to $29.1 million in 2020 – and of course, that’s only the attacks reported to the Feds. Globally, ransomware costs are believed to have reached $20 billion in 2021.  

Experts cite several reasons for the surge. The growing value of cryptocurrency – ransomware’s favorite legal tender – makes it easy for attackers to take the money without fear of detection. Plus, the more organizations pay ransom, the more that cybercriminals see a get-rich-quick scheme. Finally, the worldwide rise in people using the internet, especially since the pandemic, means a bigger pool of potential victims for cybercriminals to target.   

How does ransomware work? 

Ransomware dates to the 1980s, but in recent years, it has grown more complex and ominous. The “ransom” part of the name alludes to holding the company’s systems hostage, but today’s sophisticated attackers have escalated to extortion. They can now hide for weeks in an organization’s network, reaping the most valuable material and then demanding payment to prevent them from releasing or selling that sensitive information to the public or onto the dark web.    

Ransomware attacks typically start with an employee who carelessly, or deliberately, clicks on an email link to a compromised site or opens an infected attachment. It could also come from a disgruntled employee or outside actor who plants malware in the corporate network. Lapses in software security patches or outdated hardware also can open the door to ransomware. 

Once attacked, organizations can find themselves vulnerable to successive assaults. These follow-up attacks can be perpetrated by copycats, or they can be launched by the original attacker who grows emboldened by the success of the first effort. 

How can you protect against ransomware attacks? 

Think only the big companies are ransomware targets? In reality, small businesses are targeted in 71% of all ransomware attacks. The logic of the cybercriminals is unassailable. After all, smaller organizations rarely have the personnel or sophisticated software that build 24/7/365 defenses.  

Ransomware attacks can drive a company out of business or harm its reputation. If sensitive information is breached, the organization is legally obligated to notify affected individuals and possibly pay for security monitoring. And if the attacker is a country sanctioned by the U.S., a threat actor, or a named terrorist, paying the ransom could violate laws against funding terrorism. 

In short, there’s too much at stake to cross your fingers and hope that cybercriminals don’t find you.   

How can you protect against ransomware and malware? 

  • Keep software up-to-date. Promptly update software with security patches and upgrades. You’ll usually get notices when an update is needed; but to avoid missing any important defenses, check regularly.  
  • Layer security measures. No security tool is foolproof. Layering security provides backup in case one system fails, so deploy a mix of firewall, anti-virus software, anti-malware software, spam filters, and cloud data loss prevention. 
  • Train employees in awareness. Human error is the number one factor in cyber breaches. It’s called “insider threat,” when negligence or human error basically invites attackers to waltz in. Educate staffers not only on what not to do but on why it matters.  
  • Configure access controls. Heard of PoLP? “Principle of least privilege” essentially pares down the people with account access to the bare minimum.  
  • Create multifactor authentication and strong password requirements. Make your system harder to access. Use the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s recommendations for more secure passwords, so employees can’t cut corners by using “password” or “1234” as their passwords.

Surgent prepares you for potential ransomware attack 

The internet is an essential of 21st century business, bringing new efficiencies and lightning speed to our daily tasks. 

However, internet access also comes with risks and responsibilities. Accounting professionals and businesses have a duty to protect their businesses and the financial security of their clients.  

That responsibility extends to anticipating and protecting against ransomware attacks. That’s why Surgent, which is often first to market with relevant topics that impact the accounting profession, offers its Anatomy of a Ransomware Event and Incident Response (ARE2) course.  

Topics specific to accounting and finance covered in the course include:  

  • What is ransomware? 
  • The growing threat of ransomware – statistics 
  • Remote working and COVID-19 
  • Ransomware infection process 
  • Incident response protocol 
  • Business considerations 
  • Legal considerations 
  • Breach notification obligations 
  • Steps to protect against malware

The learning objectives of the course, which offers 2 CPE/CE credits, include avoiding common mistakes and identifying and responding to ransomware incidents. These lessons offer peace of mind to accounting and finance professionals who can be assured they have done their utmost to prevent and prepare for ransomware attacks. 

Defend against ransomware  

When a ransomware attack comes, one misstep can cascade into a series of dire consequences. Can your business afford that? Even small firms must be prepared for cybercrime. Time invested in prevention and preparation can avert disaster later.  

The key to prevention is learning how ransomware works and how to strengthen your defenses. The key to successful recovery, in case of an attack, is having a plan, knowing the appropriate response and avoiding the missteps that can make matters worse.  

Surgent’s Anatomy of a Ransomware Event and Incident Response (ARE2) course is tailored to the needs of accounting and finance professionals, for a concise how-to on warding off ransomware attacks and creating a response plan that instills confidence in your cybersecurity, for the protection of your business and your clients. But keep in mind this course also will be especially useful to the overwhelming majority of individuals and businesses alike since it is essentially applicable to the use of any computer or smartphone. 

Ready to learn more? Check out Surgent for the latest courses to meet your CPE/CE credit needs.  

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