Cybercriminals have developed a destructive new form of ransomware that targets online retailers. They scan websites for common vulnerabilities and use them to install malware that encrypts key files, images, pages and libraries, as well as their backups. The criminals behind these attacks then hold them hostage, and website operators must pay a ransom in anonymous cryptocurrency to unlock the files.
“Ransomware has proven to be very lucrative for cybercriminals, so it makes sense that these kinds of attacks are being aimed at online retailers,” said Craig Young, security researcher for Tripwire. “Many online businesses depend on holiday shopping revenue, and if they don’t have good security and backup plans and are victimized by ransomware, the impact can be devastating.”
Young identified the following five crucial steps online retailers can take to protect themselves from ransomware:
1. Keep plug-in software, especially shopping carts and blogging components, up-to-date at all times. As soon as a patch for a software vulnerability becomes available, cybercriminals have the information they need to start exploiting any systems that have not yet been updated.
2. Make sure Web servers are not the sole repository for the website’s source code, data and security certificates. Keeping this content in a source code revision tracking system ensures that a Web server does not become a single point of failure. In the event of a ransomware attack, the owner does not risk losing the intellectual property contained in the website source code.
3. Regularly replicate data files and databases so that the system can be easily restored on a fresh server in the event of a cyberattack.
4. Minimize the software applications and services on production Web servers; it should not be used as a workstation. Ideally, nothing should be stored in home directories except for basic configuration files. This limits the potential risk for data loss.
5. Various online services like Amazon Glacier and Iron Mountain provide the ability to back up important data and can be used to recover it in the event of catastrophic loss. Alternately, the use of virtualized servers updated with snapshots of key data that occurs at regular intervals minimizes the risk posed by cybercriminals.
“In some cases, ransomware victims do not gain access to their files even after paying the ransom,” said Young. “It’s much more effective to protect your business against infections than to take action after you’ve been attacked.”