Brian Evans is the Education Business Manager for Redstor.
If you’ve been following the news recently you may have seen the notoriety that Ransomware has been gaining with increasingly sophisticated and frequent attacks, most notably on schools, hospitals and local government. If you aren’t aware of what Ransomware is, it’s a type of malware that covertly installs on a victim’s computer and can quickly spread through the network and hold an organisation’s files and data to ransom.
Almost 60% of higher education institutions have suffered an attack in the past year, while a high-profile case involving Lincolnshire County Council resulted in having to shut down their systems for several days and being hit with a £1 million ransom demand.
Given the volume of sensitive data that schools hold relating to children and their very strong reliance on data to function, this represents a significant threat to safeguarding. There are steps that you can take to minimise the risks of Ransomware to your establishment and to make sure your school’s data is protected.
Ways in which Ransomware infections occur
It’s important to know how a Ransomware infection occurs. There are four ways that you should be aware of:
- Spam and unsolicited email: An easy and popular way for Ransomware to spread is via emails and unsolicited email attachments. The emails trick the user into opening it, or opening the attachments (usually by making the content appear enticing for the user).
- Infected removable drives: Malware can spread through removable drives (USB flash drives and external hard drives). It is usually created to automatically install on any machine that it is connected to. If a computer or any other type of device is connected to a network, the malware can spread through the network to other machines.
- Bundled with other software: Ransomware can be bundled together with other software applications that are downloaded and installed. The victim may think they are only downloading a certain legitimate application, not knowing that it is a Trojan horse designed to trick them into activating the malware on their device.
- Compromised webpages: Ransomware can take advantage of software vulnerabilities in order to infect a computer. When the victim visits a compromised or hacked website, the Ransomware can utilise pop-ups or other malicious tactics that mimic online advertisements in order to engage with the victim. Sometimes not even a click is needed for the Ransomware to covertly seize control of the computer.
How to protect your school
The technology driving Ransomware is increasingly advanced and difficult to detect. It often targets the human element, relying on tricking a user into interacting with an innocuous looking file or link. Even with regular training, it only takes a single momentary lapse in judgement from a user to result in an infection. However, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your school:
- Do not download any software unless you are sure it is legitimate and from a trusted source. Ransomware can pose as software, which once downloaded will infect your computer.
- Be suspicious of online advertisements. Ransomware can be spread thought malicious advertisements. If the advert looks suspicious do not click on it.
- Do not open links or attachments on suspicious emails. Before clicking on a link or attachment check:
- Is the email from a trusted source? If you know the sender, contact them to verify that the email is legitimate.
- Does the content seem sensible in the context of the sender?
- Are there spelling and grammatical mistakes in the email?
- If you hover over the link, does the website match the link displayed in the email?
- If in doubt, research the company online to find their contact details and independently verify the communication with the sender.
- Ensure your data is protected by a robust, isolated backup regime, such as Redstor Backup Pro, so that in the event of an attack you will be able to restore your data. Test that you can restore your data frequently and ensure your Disaster Recovery plan is always up-to-date. It is important to note that if your school uses Hosted SIMS, your data will automatically be securely backed-up, managed and maintained as part of your service plan by the Hosted SIMS team.
A comprehensive backup solution is your best chance of surviving a Ransomware attack. Find out more about Redstor Backup Pro and Hosted SIMS by visiting our website or call our technical team for further help on: 0844 893 600*
*Calls to 0844/0845 numbers will cost three pence per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.