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Surviving Ransomware in 3 Steps

Recently, ransomware seems like the monster underneath the public sector’s bed. Halfway through 2021, scores of agencies have suffered ransomware attacks nationwide. As the number of victims grows, can anyone handle this fearsome cyberthreat?

According to two government thought leaders, the answer is yes. On Wednesday, during GovLoop’s latest online training, the pair explained how to deal with ransomware.

Shannon Lawson, Phoenix, Arizona’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) represented the public sector. Jeffrey Phelan, Rubrik’s Public Sector Chief Technology Officer (CTO), represented the private sector. Rubrik is a cloud data management company.

“It’s a criminal’s dream,” Lawson said of ransomware. “Prepare for the worst.”

Here are three tips from Wednesday’s event aimed at combating ransomware, a malicious software that blocks access to or threatens to leak victims’ data unless a ransom is paid:

1. Clean up cyber hygiene

Cyber hygiene covers the steps users can take to improve their security online and keep their computers and other devices healthy. Unfortunately, cyber hygiene is a quality many agencies have traditionally neglected.

“If you don’t understand your environment, you’re behind the curve on preventing ransomware,” Lawson said.

Agencies can improve their cyber hygiene through methods like continuously patching potential security vulnerabilities in their software. Steps like these can prevent ransomware from disrupting agencies and costing them large sums of money.

2. Strengthen resilience

Individually or collectively, resilience is the ability to respond to, recover from and continuously operate during disturbances. Drafting a ransomware incident response plan can help agencies improve their resilience; in turn, this ensures citizens do not lose access to crucial government products and services during ransomware attacks.

“I have to be up in seconds or minutes for these critical services,” Phelan said of ransomware recovery. “If I’m not up in 23 minutes – forget about 23 days – I’m in big trouble.”

Phelan proposed agencies consistently back up their data to provide themselves with alternative access to information during cybersecurity mishaps.

“The stakes around ransomware now are high enough you can’t just read marketing literature,” he added. “You have to be ready to respond, be resilient and fight through the difficulties.”

3. Consider cyber insurance

Cyber insurance can assist agencies by providing financial protection against ransomware and other cyberthreats. After attacks, these policies can significantly recoup some agencies’ monetary losses.

Despite this, agencies must practice basic cybersecurity before taking advantage of cyber insurance policies.

“When this stuff starts escalating, they’re really going to want to know about your security posture,” Lawson said of insurance companies. “There are absolutely going to be people turned away because their security postures and practices are terrible.”

The bottom line

Ransomware may be scary, but that does not mean agencies need to give up against it. At every level of government, the ability to survive ransomware remains within reach.

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Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Such a timely piece. I’m especially interested to learn best practices for a ransomware incident response plan and how often they are used and updated.