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A Ransomware Cyberattack Could Hit Your Dealership

Jan 16, 2017

What would you do if all the data on your dealership’s computers were locked up and held for ransom? Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happening to businesses all over the country, including dealerships.

This new type of cyberattack is called ransomware – and it’s costing businesses millions of dollars a year. Hackers infiltrate computers by getting users to open email messages and download attachments that contain malware. This allows the hackers to encrypt everything on a computer and keep it locked until the user pays a ransom, typically ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

A growing problem

Ransomware attacks are on the rise as cyberthieves gain access to more sophisticated cryptography. Most attacks originate from outside the United States in countries such as Russia, Ukraine and China, which makes it difficult for U.S. law enforcement to deal with the problem.

The ransomware threat is especially prevalent among small and midsize businesses whose computers and IT systems often aren’t as well protected as those at large corporations. This should make guarding against ransomware a top priority for dealerships.

Different variations of ransomware viruses exist, which adds to the challenge of combating attacks. For example, CDT-Locker can be disguised in such a way that even antivirus software has a hard time detecting it. Another strain, CryptoWall, infected 250,000 computers in the United States in a recent year and cost victims more than $18 million in paid ransoms, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

In a typical attack, an infected computer will freeze and a pop-up window will appear on the screen telling the user that a so-called fine must be paid before the computer is unlocked and the data released. Thieves usually request the payment in Bitcoin, an anonymous Internet currency that’s nearly impossible to trace. If the ransom isn’t paid, the hackers threaten to destroy all of the encrypted data.

Protect yourself now

The best way to guard your dealership against ransomware attacks is to take protective steps before your computers are infected and your data is held for ransom. These include the following:

Educate your employees. Ransomware is usually downloaded onto computers via phishing emails that try to trick employees into clicking on links or opening attachments which could contain the virus. Make sure your employees know that it’s critical to avoid links and attachments in emails that seem suspicious. Instruct employees to ask a supervisor or IT specialist if they are ever in doubt.

Keep your software up to date. Outdated versions of common software programs, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, can be vulnerable to ransomware attacks, so always update these programs when prompted. Of course, you also should install antivirus software on all computers and keep it up to date.

Back up your data regularly. Ideally, data should be backed up to a cloud service, such as Amazon Cloud or Google Drive. If your data is properly backed up, you can unfreeze a computer by reinstalling the operating system and then easily retrieve and reinstall your data.

Would you pay up?

So, what would you do if your dealership were victimized by a ransomware attack? You could pay the ransom, but there’d still be no guarantee the cyberthieves would release your data. That’s why it’s smart to take proactive steps to guard against an attack now – before you face this difficult dilemma.

Dealer Insights - January/February 2017

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