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August 17, 2015

A Tale of Two CryptoLocker Victims

As many of you likely know, I am CEO of TMC, a media company that focuses on technology and communications. What you may not know, however, is that I also started an IT consulting and MSP firm some years back called Apex Technology Services. Apex has been a breath of fresh air from the standpoint of being able to speak with actual technology users on a daily basis. Typical media companies are somewhat shielded from actual consumer needs in that what we see often comes to us in the form of surveys and other statistics from market researchers. Or, we are fed information about customers from vendors who sell hardware, software and cloud services.

The good news is that I now have amazing insight into what is happening in the real world and it is scary. In fact, it's much worse than what we read about. For example, twice this month we had calls from companies that were not Apex customers. They were hit with CryptoLocker – that is, a dreadful piece of Ransomware that encrypts data on a network and then forces the victim to pay a ransom in order to get their data back. There is no guarantee data will be returned if you pay, but many companies who are unprepared are forced to pay or face the consequences and lose precious data.

From what we’ve seen,  CryptoLocker is spreading like wildfire and a large number of companies of all sizes are getting hit and calling us for advice. In most cases, CryptoLocker infects a computer on the network and spreads to all of the network shares, taking down server after server. Even workstations can be affected but they mostly target network shares. It is a productivity killer.

This is where the simple task of conducting preparatory backups comes in handy. Companies that have effective backups that are regularly audited are easily able to restore their systems to a state which existed before the ransomware found its way onto the system. By effective, I mean not just a one-day old backup but one which allows you to restore from any date over a period of time – perhaps a year or more.

What really blew our minds was the type of companies that didn’t have the proper backup policies in place before getting hit. In some cases, very large companies have whole divisions that are not properly backed up and audited. In fact, the most recent call we had come from a company with well over 300,000 employees! They are now in the process of converting dollars to bitcoins in order to transfer them to the person or persons responsible.

In another case, one of our customers clicked on a malicious link and got infected. Within a few hours, their systems were restored to their previous states thanks to a solid plan which calls for regular monitoring and auditing.

Remember that Ransomware is just a single click away from infecting virtually any and all computers that are connected to a network, or to the Internet. The only way to mitigate the risk of this class of attack is to have proper backups which are regularly monitored and audited, a great disaster recovery plan and finally, regular user training. It's important to ensure you have the right corporate culture in your organization – one which focuses on effective cybersecurity.

In other words, there is no magic bullet, vendor box or software solution to such a problem, or for cybersecurity for that matter. To have the most secure network possible, ensure you have proper policies, procedures and regular user training in place.

Companies like Apex will always be around to help once your network gets infected. Like all of our peers, though, we’d rather help you stay infection-free so you can focus on growing your business.This is why more and more companies are working with IT solution providers and MSPs. These companies have tremendous expertise in keeping networks secure and running so their customers can prosper.

Apex Technology Services
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