Every business that maintains an online presence is at risk for cyber extortion. Companies can lessen their susceptibility to this kind of danger by taking proactive steps to safeguard the integrity of data and systems. Back up data, encrypt sensitive information and update systems regularly. Adding firewall capabilities is also an important step.
What is Cyber-Extortion?
Cyber-extortion is when a bad actor hijacks your data or website and threatens to release it to the dark web or execute a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) against your business unless you pay them. They typically ask for payment in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, because it’s harder to trace. The attackers gain access to your system through ad scams, phishing emails, infected websites, or other methods. They then encrypt or otherwise lock you out of your data, files and systems. Ransomware is one common way of doing this, and it’s becoming increasingly popular. It’s a form of malware that infects your computer network, encrypts your data and locks you out, forcing you to make a ransom payment quickly. Examples include the recent attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which sparked a $5 million ransom demand. It can cause devastating consequences for businesses that need to operate online. Even worse, paying the extortion money can incentivize further criminal activity. It makes it risky for many companies, especially small and medium-sized ones. Fortunately, you can prevent cyber-extortion attacks from happening to your business by using robust cybersecurity measures and getting cyber insurance that protects your bottom line.
Prevention of Cyber-Extortion
Keeping up with the latest cyber threats, staying vigilant when news of data breaches breaks and taking measures to ensure systems are updated and patched will help prevent your business from falling victim to hackers. Creating backup and encryption strategies, testing recovery procedures, and resetting default passwords will also help. Businesses that rely on centralized digital tools like e-commerce websites, financial services companies and medical offices may be especially susceptible to cyber-extortion. One of the most common tactics used by cybercriminals is ransomware. It happens when hackers gain access to your data, website or server and then demand a ransom to get it back. Hackers know that most people would rather pay the money than risk losing their data or business operations, so this is a growing and profitable industry for them.
Another type of cyber extortion is DDoS attacks, when hackers send so many messages to your web servers that they slow down or even take down your website. Hackers can make this happen by launching an overwhelming attack from multiple sources, including bots and other infected computers. Regardless of the type of extortion, cybersecurity experts like Fortinet recommend companies avoid paying ransomware settlements. It is crucial to put measures in place to help eliminate the risk of hackers infiltrating your data.
Targets of Cyber-Extortion
Any company that stores data or information online is at risk of cyber extortion. However, some companies are more likely to be targeted. The biggest threat for businesses is that criminal hackers could make their confidential information public if they don’t receive the ransom demanded. Then there’s the damage to the company’s reputation. If your business is threatened with cyber extortion, it is best to report it to the police immediately. Cyber extortion is often carried out through malware infections. The most well-known example is ransomware, malware that encrypts a victim’s information and demands money to decrypt the data. However, ransomware is only one of many cyber extortion tactics criminals use.
There are also email extortion attacks where the criminal threatens to release private information over social media if the victim doesn’t pay. It can include embarrassing pictures, texts, or personal details about the victim’s family. Another way to protect yourself against cyber extortion is to have strong passwords for all your accounts and devices. Use a passphrase of three random words so it’s harder for criminals to crack. And keep work and personal accounts separate to avoid the risk of a breach impacting both.
Types of Cyber-Extortion
Any business with centralized digital operations or online customer relationship management tools is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Whether a company gets hit by ransomware or a hacker threatens to release confidential information, cyber extortion is a problem that affects both large and small businesses. One of the most common types of cyber extortion is ransomware, in which a hacker gains access to your business systems and encrypts your files, preventing you from using applications or your website. They then demand money to decrypt your files and regain access to your data. Ransomware is particularly damaging to e-commerce businesses and medical offices that rely on their websites for marketing and sales. Other cyber extortion tactics include phishing, in which hackers send emails to employees with malicious links that, if clicked on, cause malware to install on the employee’s computers and compromise their personal information. Lastly, hackers can use a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) to flood a website’s servers with so many requests that it shuts down for users. Preventing cyber extortion starts with understanding how attackers gain access to your system and keeping current on the latest security updates. Additionally, creating backups of all your important data can save you from paying any ransom payments if the worst happens. Finally, a cyber liability insurance policy that covers cyber extortion and other financial losses from a data breach is essential for any business.