Published December 04, 2013
On any given day small business owners can get hit with a computer virus, especially if they aren’t careful. One particularly nasty virus gaining in popularity will render your data useless. Known as crypto locker, this virus encrypts all the data on a computer’s hard drive and holds it ransom for a fee, typically in the $300 range.
Crypto locker “is getting more attention partly because they are more successful and finally making real money from it,” says Dave Aitel, CEO of security company Immunity Inc.
Crypto locker works like this: An unsuspecting computer user will either get an email purporting to be from their bank, friends, Facebook or a host of other fake senders or be asked to click on a pop up in a Website. The person thinks it’s legitimate, clicks on it and before they know it the virus is installed on their computer which encrypts their data. The person will be given a time period, for instance 72 hours, to make a payment in exchange for the key to decrypt all the data. Refuse and the data on the hard drive will be gone forever.
Since the criminals want to get paid but also don’t want to get caught, they are using untraceable financial tools to get their ransom. Two popular means are via Bitcoins, which is a virtual currency, and MoneyPak which is prepaid Visa or MasterCard. While nobody knows for sure who is behind crypto locker, one thing is for sure: companies of all sizes as well as consumers are willing to pay the criminals.
“Small businesses have to pay it because they are bad at IT,” says Aitel. “They don’t have backup programs. The data only resides on that one place. It’s the only copy they have.”
Although crypto locker is a nasty virus, there are easy steps to take to prevent your business from becoming another victim. The most important defense, say security experts, is to back up the data and do it often. According to Jason Glassberg, co-founder of security firm Casaba, small businesses should backup their data on a regular basis, say weekly and then copy any changes they make each day. The business owner should also have copies of that backed up data so if they run into a situation where they get hit by Crypto locker or their hard drive fails, they will be back up and running in minutes.
In addition to having a regularly scheduled backup process in place, Glassberg says people need to be careful about what Websites they visit and what emails they open.
“Like any other piece of malware, common sense goes a long way,” says Glassberg. “The critical thing is it’s not going to install files by itself. You have to initiate some action.”
Other options, according to security experts, are for small businesses to forgo using Internet explorer for their searches or to go with a cloud-based provider to house their data. Aitel says an online service can be appealing because none of the data would reside on a hard drive. “This is where cloud computing can save the day,” says Aitel.
Keep in mind that with a lot of these cloud-based services the small business owner can map a drive or assign a drive letter to the service. If the drive is mapped whatever data that’s assigned to it can also be infected and thus locked up until the ransom is paid.
“If you are connected to the network those drives on the network that are mapped will also be encrypted,” says Glassberg. Same goes with a USB drive that’s left in the computer when it’s infected, he says.
“Avoid drive mapping, be safe in terms of clicking and back up regularly,” he says.