Understanding Ransomware and How to Protect Your Business

Posted on Tuesday, October 31, 2023

In today’s digital-centric world, ransomware threats have become more prevalent and sophisticated, posing significant risks to businesses and individuals alike. 

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. 

There are an estimated 2,000 cyber attacks daily, of which 43% of targets are SMBs. Around 60% of SMBs that suffer cyber attacks go bust within six months.

This article delves into the workings of ransomware attacks, their prevalence and crucial prevention tips.

Understanding Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is one of the principal cyber threat types, alongside malware and insider attacks. A ransomware attack typically unfolds in two stages. 

  • Initially, the malware encrypts the victim’s files or locks the device, rendering the data inaccessible. The encryption is so robust that victims cannot decrypt the files without a unique decryption key. 
  • Subsequently, a ransom note appears on the screen detailing the ransom amount, payment method, and deadline. Failure to comply within the stipulated time may result in an increased ransom, file deletion, or permanent encryption.

The Magnitude of the Threat

Ransomware is a global threat, indiscriminately targeting organisations of all sizes. A recent IDC report revealed that 37% of organisations worldwide fell victim to ransomware attacks. 

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 30% of governments worldwide will have established rules or regulations governing ransomware payments.

Financial losses are staggering, with ransomware-related attacks reaching $590 million in the first half of 2021 alone, surpassing the total for the previous year. 

The NHS and the WannaCry Ransomware: A Case Study

The WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017 marked one of the most significant and disruptive cyber incidents in recent history, severely impacting organisations worldwide, including the NHS.

The NHS found itself at the epicentre of the attack, with over a third of its trusts affected, leading to the cancellation of nearly 20,000 appointments and operations.

WannaCry exploited a vulnerability in older Windows operating systems, spreading rapidly across networks and encrypting files, demanding a ransom payment in Bitcoin for their release. 

The NHS’s reliance on outdated software and underinvestment in cybersecurity measures left it particularly vulnerable, highlighting systemic issues in maintaining its IT infrastructure.

The impact on patient care was profound, as the attack crippled essential services and access to patient records. 

In the aftermath, the WannaCRY incident served as a wake-up call for both the public and private sector, prompting a reassessment of cybersecurity practices.

Ransomware Prevention Tips

1. Manage Access

Strong User Authentication

Implement stringent access controls, ensuring only legitimate users can access your network. Utilise strong, unique passwords and enforce a policy of regular password updates.

Encourage using passphrase techniques, making passwords more complex and harder to crack.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

Boost your security by adding an additional layer of protection with Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Even if login credentials become compromised, MFA ensures that attackers cannot easily gain unauthorised access to your network.

2. Centralised Management

Consistent Security Policies

Develop and maintain unified security policies across the entire organisation. Utilise centralised management tools to monitor compliance, making it easier to identify and rectify any deviations promptly.

Safeguard Sensitive Information

Identify and classify data based on its sensitivity. Implement robust security measures to protect critical data, ensuring it is encrypted and safeguarded against unauthorised access.

3. Anti-malware Solutions

Employ Email Security

Leverage advanced email security solutions to scrutinise incoming emails, filtering out malicious attachments and links. Deploy anti-phishing measures to defend against deceptive emails that might be used in ransomware attacks.

Real-time Malware Protection

Ensure that your network is protected by security software that provides real-time protection against malware, including ransomware. Regularly update your security software to recognise and guard against the latest threats.

4. Patch Management

Regularly Update Systems

Maintain the security of your network by regularly updating all endpoints, including operating systems, applications, and software. Ensure that all patches are applied promptly to close any potential vulnerabilities.

5. Protect Backups

Implement the 3-2-1 Backup Rule

Follow the 3-2-1 rule for backups: keep three copies of your data, store them on two different media, and keep one backup copy offsite. This ensures a business has redundant copies of your data, safeguarding it against ransomware attacks.

Regular Backup Testing

Regularly test your backups to ensure they are functioning correctly and that data integrity is maintained. This ensures that you can quickly restore your data during a ransomware attack.

6. Educate Users

Ongoing Training and Awareness

Provide continuous training and awareness programs to educate users on how to identify and report ransomware threats. Ensure that all staff members are aware of the risks and understand the role they play in safeguarding the organisation.

7. Disaster Recovery Plan

Develop and Maintain BCDR Tools

Create, test, and maintain tools and procedures for business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR). Ensure that you are prepared to fully recover data and applications in the event of a ransomware attack or other disaster.

8. Risk Assessment

Categorise and Prioritise Threats

Conduct a thorough risk assessment to categorise the different types of ransomware threats your organisation may face. Establish clear priorities for business continuity and recovery in the event of an attack.

9. Incident Response Plan

Establish Clear Guidelines

Create a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines the steps to be taken during a ransomware attack. 

This plan should detail how to identify the scope of the attack, how to contain it, and the steps required to eradicate the threat from your network.


Ransomware remains one of the most pervasive and damaging threats in the digital landscape, with its ability to cripple organisations, compromise sensitive data, and cause substantial financial losses. 

Implementing ransomware prevention tips is vital to protecting your business from ransomware, including managing access, employing anti-malware and ransomware technologies, making effective backups, and training employees to recognise and act on threats.  

This includes properly maintaining your IT software, ensuring systems are updated, and security practices are abided by. 

Mustard IT’s support services are vital in ensuring fundamental organisation-wide protection against IT threats, including ransomware.