Be(a)ware of Cybersecurity Risk: Ransomware

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. M3 will be posting a series of articles throughout the month with today’s hot topics in cyber exposures, culminating in the release of an exclusive video conversation with information that can help you proactively protect your business from cyber attack.

Ransomware is making headlines again as one of the most ubiquitous risks companies and individuals face today. Last month, it was announced that another large health system was hit with a ransomware event. Patients were turned away, a conversion was made to paper files, and test results were slowed to a near halt. At the same time, a health system in Germany turned away a patient with life-threatening illness that had to find treatment elsewhere. It was later reported that the patient died.

Healthcare systems are one of many industries that are experiencing losses due to ransomware. The headlines come when businesses are unable to provide services, but companies of all sizes and industry classes are targeted. It’s time for your business to learn the risks associated with ransomware.

The Horror of Ransomware

Ransomware is defined as a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money or other consideration is paid. Ransomware is spread most frequently by phishing emails, but can also come from clicking a website’s link that unknowingly downloads malware (known as “drive-by downloading”). Malware, or malicious software, infects the system shutting down servers, encrypting information, or exfiltrating data. A demand is made – typically requesting cryptocurrency – with an expiration date and time. If a company or individual decide to make payment, they transfer the funds. If successful, a key is provided to decrypt data, servers are back up and running, or data is promised to be destroyed.

If it sounds like this is the plot to a Hollywood film, many who have been in the situation would likely agree. There are many decisions to be made, and there is usually a short timeframe to do it.

Prevention and preparation are key – here are some best practices:

  1. Make use of scanning tools. Criminals are always looking for low-hanging fruit. If you have open ports or vulnerabilities, you’re likely more of a target.
  2. Train your employees. Never underestimate the power of a human firewall! If your employees are aware of the risks, they’ll think twice before clicking links.
  3. Be prepared! Create an incident response plan and practice with senior leadership. Many decisions need to be made and the information may come quickly. Determine who needs to be informed, and assign who has the final say as decisions are needed.
  4. Access legal advice right away. The Office of Foreign Access Controls (OFAC) publicly announced that some ransomware payments may violate OFAC regulations. A privacy attorney is well-versed in these regulations and can help navigate this potential minefield.
  5. Review your cyber insurance policy. A comprehensive cyber insurance policy provides access to the vendors needed to respond to ransomware at negotiated rates. Legal services, digital forensics, ransomware negotiators, and access to cryptocurrencies are a few of the services that may be available to you as a policyholder.

Don’t let the constant stream of headlines scare you. Ransomware happens every day, but resources are available to help prevent and manage this exposure. Rely upon your M3 Account Executive to understand your business and potential exposures.


Emily Selck is director of cyber liability at M3 Insurance. 

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