Cyberattacks are much in the news lately, as large operations like oil pipelines, meat producers, and public transportation systems have suffered from various forms of them. While these were mostly ransomware attacks, it’s important for business owners on all levels to understand that cyberattacks come in many forms and that businesses of any size can become the target. One of the first steps in mitigating the risk is understanding it, knowing the nature of the most common cyber attacks, and knowing what to do about it should the worst occur.
Types of Cyber Attacks
While ransomware has been very much in the news, there are a number of common types of cyberattacks to be aware of. Some of them are active–ie the attacker is directly targeting a given business or system–and some of them rely on targets of opportunity.
An abbreviated form of “malicious software”, malware is an umbrella term for software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server, client, or computer network. Malware can include viruses and ransomware. Malware may be either intentionally introduced to a computer, device, or network or may be downloaded accidentally via infected software or email.
Viruses are one of the oldest cyberattacks, and they take the form of harmful software designed to spread from computer to computer or device to device. They often work by giving the attacker access to your device, system, or network.
Ransomware is a specific type of malware that infects and encrypts a device or computer, and thus restricts access to the data until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is usually delivered through phishing emails and exploits unpatched vulnerabilities in software.
Phishing is a type of cyber attack that uses email or a malicious website to infect your device, computer, or system with malware or collect your sensitive information. Phishing emails often appear as though they’ve been sent from a legitimate organization or known individual, which is partially why they’re such an easy mistake for a user to make. Once opened, that email or link may infect the computer with some form of malware, virus, or ransomware.
How to Prevent Cyber Attacks for Small Businesses
We’ve written previously about cybersecurity for small businesses, and most of that advice applies here. If there’s any question as to the legitimacy of an email or file, calling the sending party to ask is the best way to go. This helps avoid many potential cyberattacks by keeping bad software away from your system.
It’s also helpful to train your employees to avoid using company computers for personal business or social media. This reduces the possibility that they’ll accidentally download something bad, or allow unintentional access to the system or your secure data.
Regular updates and training to both your software and your staff’s knowledge thereof are vital steps in keeping things running smoothly and safely. Installing patches and updates to your systems as needed, and keeping your staff up to speed on the latest common cyber attacks both help prevent bad things from happening.
What to Do About a Cyberattack
It’s hard to give specific advice about responding to a cyberattack without knowing the nature of the attack and the computer or network in question. The right antivirus or anti-malware software can often mitigate the problem, so ensuring that you’re using those regularly is helpful. In cases of severe malware or ransomware attacks, restoring from a backup may be the most effective solution, but this requires a good backup and the knowledge of how to do the restoration. For small businesses, this may mean outsourcing your IT support to a reputable company. Paying the ransom is a difficult question for small businesses, and requires balancing a number of concerns that are situation-specific. Your IT providers and the insurance company may have specific requirements for dealing with the situation, and listening to them may be best.
Ultimately though the best cure is prevention. By taking steps to understand the risks posed by cyberattacks and to prevent them, you’ll potentially save yourself and your business a huge amount of time and money. Following these simple steps will go a long way towards that end.