Ransomware: How to Ruin a Small Business' Day

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted July 31, 2017

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Often, through no fault of their own, small business owners are forced to flip over the "Sorry, We're Closed" much earlier in the day than they planned.

Bad weather, a power outage or any number of other unfortunate events that can put a quick end to an otherwise productive day. Add ransomware to the long list of setbacks that a small business can encounter, but this one is completely preventable.

What is ransomware?

Besides dominating cybersecurity news headlines recently, it's a form of malware that adds insult to the injury. "Upon compromising a computer, ransomware will typically either lock a user's system or encrypt files on the computer and then demand payment before the system or files will be restored," explains this Webopedia entry.

Its impact on small businesses can be crippling, according to the Malwarebytes' Second Annual State of Ransomware Report (registration required) containing the findings of a survey of over 1,000 small and midsized businesses (SMBs with fewer than 1,000 employees) conducted by Osterman Research. Participants hailed from North America, France, U.K., Germany, Australia and Singapore.

According to the study, an alarming number of SMBs are forced to halt operations following a ransomware attack.

More than a third (35 percent) of the SMBs polled said they suffered a ransomware attack in the past year. Among those, 22 percent were forced to cease operations immediately.

"Businesses of all sizes are increasingly at risk for ransomware attacks," said Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes, in a statement. "However, the stakes of a single attack for a small business are far different from the stakes of a single attack for a large enterprise. Osterman's findings demonstrate that SMBs are suffering in the wake of attacks, to the point where they must cease business operations."

No Sale

Fifteen percent of organizations reported losing sales. One in six affected businesses faced 25 hours or more of downtime. Some reported that their systems were out of commission for more than 100 hours. If struck with ransomware, most SMBs (90 percent) can expect at least one hour of downtime.

Awareness appears to be widespread, but its not necessarily translating into prevention.

A majority of organizations (75 percent) said addressing the ransomware problem ranked as a high or very high priority. Despite their efforts and investments in security solutions, nearly half said they had little to a moderate degree of confidence that they could repel a ransomware attack.

When they fall victim to an attack, more than a quarter of SMBs (27 percent) said they couldn't figure out how their endpoints got infected. Two percent said that ransomware had spread to every device on the network.

American SMBs seem to be in the crosshairs more often than their European counterparts. Ransomware arrived as an infected email attachments or malicious links 37 percent and 27 percent of the time, respectively. For European SMBs, attacks based on attachments and links were significantly lower (22 percent each).

All told, 81 percent of SMBs suffered some sort of cyberattack. Two-thirds (66 percent) reported a data breach.

Another survey, this one from Thycotic involving 400 business and security executives, reveals more reasons why small businesses should never let their guard down. Two out of three cyberattacks target small businesses. After suffering a breach, a whopping 60 percent shutter their doors after six months.

When faced with a ransom demand, most SMBs (72 percent) don't believe in paying up, states the Malwarebytes report. A third of organizations lost files after not paying up.


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