CEOs need to wake up to the risk of ransomware, says Stephen Kines, COO, at the network security product firm Goldilock.
The idea of cyber security as an IT problem is outdated. As cyber attacks continue to grow in volume, scale, and sophistication, they pose a serious threat to businesses – one that CEOs can no longer ignore. With the potential to damage reputation, destroy value, and frustrate customers, now is the time for CEOs to take notice of the threat of cyber attacks and take steps to mitigate them, especially as the ransomware threat continues to evolve.
Many ransomware attacks don’t discriminate. Any business, of any size, in any location, and in any industry can fall foul of a ransomware attack, with CEOs around the world all too slowly wising up to this fact. Not only are they a significant risk for organisations, but CEOs themselves are increasingly being held financially accountable for data breaches. Consequently, the stakes for the person at the top have never been higher.
The CEO nightmare: the wide-spread ramifications of a ransomware attack
The impacts, both financial and otherwise, of ransomware attacks can be catastrophic. Take for example, worldwide shipping giant Maersk’s experience in June 2017. Following a major ransomware attack caused by the NotPetya malware, Maersk initially stated a loss of $25 million, however, the full recovery cost the company as much as $300 million. Why? Because as well as the shocking financial hit, the attack on Maersk severely disrupted global shipping for several weeks, shaking the confidence of cargo owners around the world and causing revenue losses that extended beyond the company’s Q2 financials.
As a result, the company had to undertake almost a “complete infrastructure overhaul” and reinstall thousands of machines – an expensive wake-up call that demonstrates the damaging financial and reputational ripple effects of a single ransomware attack.
This incident serves to highlight that even industry giants are struggling to protect themselves against aggressive and disruptive ransomware attacks. So, how exactly should CEOs respond to prevent their business becoming the next casualty?
In light of the real and pervasive ransomware threat, with malicious actors continuing to evolve their tactics and techniques, many businesses have begun to push cyber security higher up the C-suite agenda. With this, CEOs are being increasingly held accountable when cyber defences fail. A ransomware attack on leading Indian mortgage lender Can Fin Homes in September saw shares plummet by 15% within just 72 hours – and the even swifter resignation of its MD and CEO. While the executive in question resigned rather than being fired, his rapid downfall is a sign of the times.
Meanwhile, construction group Interserve was fined £4.4m by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for failing to put appropriate measures in place to prevent a ransomware attack – the fourth largest ICO fine ever and a stark warning to other firms.
With John Edwards, the UK Information Officer, declaring that any other businesses failing to mitigate against cyber attacks should “expect a similar fine from my office”, the C-suite is increasingly being held to financial account for any data breaches suffered. For those at the helm of companies, this heightened exposure to post-attack regulatory sanctions, coupled with their head being placed firmly on the chopping block, should signal that the buck stops with them.
The CEO action: take (back) control
As CEOs begin to realise the need to take the issue of ransomware more seriously, it is important that they recognise that connectivity equals risk. As long as systems are connected all the time, they will be vulnerable to ransomware all the time. It’s therefore time for executives to take back control from determined and resourceful ransomware criminals by planning their business’s strategic disconnect.
Investing in technology that simply segregates and completely isolates their sensitive data and mission critical assets and networks – as and when they need – will cut off the air supply for ransomware criminals, providing organisations with ‘unbreachable’ protection.
The use of next-generation network segregation solutions allow businesses to remotely and physically ‘pull the cables’ via SMS, a non-internet trigger mechanism beyond attack visibility. With complete freedom to connect and disconnect on demand, CEOs can remotely exercise total control over when and where their most valuable digital assets can be accessed.
Many organisations will opt to pull connectivity outside of core office hours, however, thanks to individual segregated controls, business leaders can opt to give employees secure access to data outside of these times while the business continues to shrink its attack surface to near zero.
With so much to lose, both personally and professionally, it is vital that CEOs begin to dedicate the time, energy, and budget required to successfully tackle the threat of ransomware. Armed with the latest air gapping technology, leaders can disconnect on demand, rendering sensitive data completely inaccessible to ransomware groups and safeguard themselves and their business against the moral, reputational, and financial implications of ransomware attacks.