By Marc Grens, Co-Founder & President at DigitalMint
Crypto-related ransomware attacks are on the rise, and the pandemic has only hastened its propagation. For example, from 2018 to 2020, ransomware attacks have increased by 200%. Yet during the COVID-19 pandemic alone, from January to May of 2020, ransomware attacks have grown by 900%. This is not surprising with the rise and vulnerabilities of remote work and individuals mixing their professional and personal lives online.
Ransomware is a common cybersecurity threat facing a wide variety of industries, from public entities like government agencies and healthcare organizations, where confidential data storage is critical, to financial services and even manufacturing. Worse yet, a federal cybersecurity advisory committee has warned of an increased cybersecurity threat to hospitals even while dealing with the pandemic.
These types of attacks do not discriminate based on company size either. Small and mid-size businesses are at as much risk as large companies. And it is all only going to get worse in 2021 as technology continues to improve and advance. Hackers have become more emboldened and brazen, and unfortunately, some businesses continue to lag behind in cybersecurity precautions. Based on all this information, it is worth considering what steps leaders can take to deal with crypto-related ransomware attacks.
Cryptocurrency Ransomware Attacks: What You Can—and Should—Do
There are some steps you can take to either avoid a ransomware attack or, at the least, handle it with minimum damage to your company’s reputation, data, and fiscal health.
- Train and educate employees about ransomware and how to avoid it—If your IT Department does not already have a set of cybersecurity training modules in place, consider building out a comprehensive program to educate employees about ransomware. Be sure to update the program regularly, as new developments in cybersecurity are rapid. In addition, stress to all your employees how serious ransomware can be.
- Know that paying the ransom is a last-resort option—While there are plenty of ways to recover losses and deal with the ransom, such as employing companies like DigitalMint, who have used their cryptocurrency and financial networks to help them settle cases with ransoms as high as more than $10 million in the past, you should know that in general, paying the actual ransom is the last resort. You should not immediately pay it without considering your other options and seeking professional technical advice to determine the damage that may have been done
- Hire a reputable cyber incident response firm with technical expertise —Once attacked by ransomware, remain calm and hire a reputable cyber incident response firm. They need to analyze the situation, assess the damage, understand how much data has been released, and advise you on how to proceed. This will not only include determining a strategy for handling the current ransomware issue, but it also will include remedying vulnerabilities in your system to prevent future attacks.
- Avoid conflicts of interest—This is very important, possibly the most important point: avoid conflicts of interest, especially when dealing with the cryptocurrency ransom itself. There should be a clear separation of the cyber incident response firm and cyber settlement financial services organization that acquires the cryptocurrency. It would be best if you chose a separate partner for each role in the process because a cyber incident response firm that also deals with the financial payment side of things might have a conflict of interest that prevents them from doing the best job for you possible under the circumstances.
For instance, perhaps the cyber incident response firm knows how to get your data back without paying the ransom; if that consultant also handles your business’s potential cyber settlement cryptocurrency purchase, why would they want to stop at the cybersecurity consultation step in the process if they are incentivized to purchase your settlement? Instead of solving the problem early in the process without a ransom payment, your consultant might be tempted to proceed with payment to receive an extra commission from you. That is why companies like DigitalMint focus solely on cyber settlement financial services, removing any conflict of interest.
- Prevent financial red-flags in cryptocurrency transactions—In many cases, especially with small and mid-size businesses, fast and large cryptocurrency transactions can be seen as suspicious by regulatory authorities and financial institutions. For that reason, you must prevent red-flags with your transactions. Doing this includes:
- Banking transparency with settlements—Make sure your cyber cryptocurrency settlement partner company is transparent about its transactions and has a history of always rigorously recording documentation of all cryptocurrency transactions.
- Strong relationship with banks and firms who deal with cryptocurrency—Many smaller cryptocurrency settlement companies do not have partnerships with organizations that specialize or even deal in cryptocurrency. This is why your cyber settlement partner must already have those strong relationships with organizations that handle cryptocurrency transactions.
- Strong AML (Anti-Money Laundering) and other stringent compliance programs—Your cyber cryptocurrency settlement partner must always comply with AML, OFAC, and other federal and state regulatory guidelines. Since you are dealing with hackers, it can be easy to avoid compliant transactions, but if your cyber settlement partner is in compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering Program and other compliance programs, you will not be prone to sink to the hackers’ levels of unlawful behavior.
The Takeaway: Ransomware Does Not Have to Be the End of Your Company
While it is true that the growing threat of ransomware attacks continues to increase rapidly in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic—and has been spiking at an alarming rate even prior to the pandemic, there are still some relatively simple steps you can take to prevent or minimize the damage to your company. However, if you choose to hire a trusted independent cyber incident response firm, ensure any conflicts of interest are mitigated or fully disclosed.
About the Author
Marc Grens is the Co-Founder & President of DigitalMint, a trusted cryptocurrency ransomware resolution provider that enables clients to purchase Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to settle ransomware incidents. He is a serial entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in the investment industry. Prior to DigitalMint, Grens held senior positions at Charles Schwab, HighTower Advisors, and Alpha Strategies. He received his M.B.A. from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University in 2010, and a B.A. from Illinois State University. Grens is an active angel investor and serves on multiple advisory boards of companies in the Chicago tech community.
Marc Grens can be reached at www.digitalmint.io.