22 Aug 2017

When a company or organization is hit by a ransom ware attack, there are a slew of questions that need to be answered. How did the hackers breach the network? How much data has been lost? What do we do to make sure this never happens again? Of course these questions need to be answered quickly and there’s not an easy answer to any of them. But the toughest and most immediate question an organization has to ask itself after a successful ransomware attack is do we pay the ransom? This is an incredibly difficult decision to make because it is choosing between essentially starting back from scratch or paying the ransom and validating the hacker’s actions. That means admitting that you’re beat and rewarding them for their crime. At least, that’s how it is for most organizations.

Cancer Services of East Central Indiana- Little Red Door is a non-profit that supports cancer patients throughout all stages of treatment. They try to help people with everything from preventative screening to hospice care. In an ideal world that would mean that hackers don’t target them because of the good work they do. If we lived in an ideal world though, there wouldn’t be hackers to begin with. That’s why it’s no surprise that Little Red Door’s servers and backup drives were breached and had their data encrypted. The hackers soon contacted them through text message and asked for a 50 bitcoin (around $43,000) ransom for the decryption key. This is where most organizations have to make that tough choice we were talking about earlier.

Do I surrender, or do I fight?

As difficult as that is, non-profits are in a much harder position. If an organization decides to pay a ransom, they’re paying with their profits, but as the name implies non-profits don’t have that luxury. Which means that donor money won’t be going to cancer care or whatever the goal of the non-profit is, but to lining the pockets of cybercriminals. Simply being hacked and raising the possibility that donor information was breached is bad enough, but actually using their donations to pay a ransom will harm the organization’s reputation and steer future donors away.

That’s why non-profit cybersecurity is so important. Not only are people in need relying on their services, but a non-profit’s reputation is what decides if they have the funds to do their job. In the case of Little Red Door, they decided not to pay the ransom and fight, saying that “The agency will not raise money to pay the criminal’s ransom.” But you can’t expect everyone to do the same. Some organizations may simply have too much donor information at stake or cannot go on without the encrypted data. In some cases, hackers will wait to launch their attacks until a critical moment in the organizations year. For example, they could encrypt a university’s data a few days before the semester begins, or in the case of a non-profit they could strike a day before a major fundraising event and force the organization’s hand.

That’s only if the hackers are able to get in though. It’s one thing to say that you will be completely secure and another thing entirely to actually do it, but if you take a few simple steps to becoming secure you will be miles ahead of most other organizations and companies. Most people think that cyber-attacks will never happen to them and either create minimal security measures or don’t do anything at all. But that’s exactly why attacks are happening more often and are having a greater effect than ever before. If you’re a part of a non-profit, you literally can’t afford to ignore your cybersecurity.

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