In today’s world, the most valuable currency in business is data. Customers provide it, and companies love it. Tech giants with the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all rely on customer data to sell their targeted advertisement services. Yet, a ransomware attack may also damage your marketing data, leaving you in the dark, as well as crippling your operation, which no longer has access to the information needed to function.
Take a look at the S&P 500 and you’ll see that almost all companies beating analyst expectations are leveraging data technology with a strategic combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and Big Data to guide decisions and improve their ability to serve customers better. In fact, these data technology companies are the champions of disruption, driving the old pros nuts.
The numbers speak for themselves. Why is a company like Google is worth a whopping $1.12 trillion whereas United Airlines, which physically owns assets like airplanes can’t even touch $10 billion?
The answer; customer data and the ability to derive insights from this data.
You might not know that data is the most valuable and powerful asset in the world. Companies truly harnessing the power of data are constantly profitable day in and out.
Safeguarding data, the primary responsibility of enterprises
But when customers provide their private data, they entrust these companies with the basic responsibility of safeguarding it. This means that data shared is and cannot be used for any other purpose, as guaranteed by most Western countries. This implied covenant between customers and businesses comes under fire in a world where data breaches threaten customer privacy or otherwise damage your marketing data. For instance, just last week a major data breach occurred at an Alibaba-backed grocer, stealing data from over a million customers. A similar breach just weeks before threatened a similar number. And those are just the data breaches encountered in the last month from a single e-commerce platform.
Increasingly, threat actors target enterprises and corporations that store massive amounts of valuable customer data. Such actions damage your marketing data and threaten the trust you established with your customers.
When you focus on the operational aspect of the business, cybersecurity may not be on the top of your list of activities. Instead, managing day-to-day challenges and putting out the inevitable fires may consume your entire operational bandwidth. However, that’s dangerous and getting more dangerous every day as new bad actors enter the arena and their ability to infiltrate your security gets better faster than your ability to thwart their efforts.
Today, we discuss the why and how of ransomware, a new security threat to global businesses, that can easily eradicate the entire value of a firm’s marketing data. Further, ransomware disables your operations, damaging your relationships with customers and suppliers, possibly even endangering people.
But before we talk about how ransomware may damage your marketing data, let’s brush up on the topic of ransomware.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a 5th generation, modern warfare tactic where hackers encrypt all the data on the company’s server and ask for a ransom payment before releasing your own data. While restoring from backup may seem like an easy option, a network of thousands of computers, once hacked, puts the entire business operation in jeopardy. Plus, many firms don’t have up-to-date backups of their data, especially in firms generating massive amounts of data every day. In fact, often businesses discover too late that their backups suffered the same encryption damage and are useless to businesses trying to recover from a ransomware attack. Damages your marketing data
This doesn’t simply stop here. Threat actors who hold an entire corporation or even municipality hostage, publish stolen data on the dark web when their victims refuse to pay the ransom demanded by hackers.
Ransomware gangs including RYUK and Maze generated hundreds of millions of dollars from hacking major businesses and organizations in just a span of years.
Over the last few years, ransomware becomes a multi-billion dollar industry that attracts both bad actors and nation-states bent on damaging their foes in this new, bloodless war.
Disturbing Ransomware Statistics in 2020 that you should know
We won’t go into details, but it’s important we study the most disturbing ransomware statistics of 2020 so you understand how massive the problem truly is:
- Cybercrime is up by 600%, thanks to the COVID19 pandemic (Source: PurpleSec)
- The Healthcare industry suffers the highest number of attacks as compared to any other industry, possibly due to the inherent life and death necessity of maintaining immediate access to data (Source: PurpleSec)
- Beginning October 2020, ahead of the US elections, as many as 20+ hospitals and medical facilities in the US suffered from massive data breaches due to ransomware attacks (Source: More hospitals hit by ransomware as feds warn about cyberattacks)
- In 2019, the average ransomware cleanup cost amounted to $133,000 (Source: 10 2020 Ransomware Statistics That You Need to See)
Why should companies even care about data?
Steve Todd, the Vice President of Data Innovation and Strategy for Dell EMC, conducted a survey of 36 corporations with revenues greater than $1 billion. The biggest challenge for these companies was not to turn this massive data into cash, but rather to store, process, protect, and analyze the data to provide operational insights.
Knowing the criticality of data and the cost when they damage your marketing data, threat actors target enterprises, municipalities, and giant corporations with ransomware attacks.
These cybercriminals know the value and importance of Big Data and hence attacking companies like these become a highly lucrative operation. It is impossible for a company to handle Big Data in a manner that allows them to get back on their feet; up and running after a massive ransomware attack produces damage to their marketing data in a matter of days.
Even with a rapid recovery from a ransomware attack, it may take anywhere from a few days up to several weeks to fix the damage to your marketing data so you can send orders, pay invoices, and track revenue. As many as 60% of small businesses are unable to get back online and end up closing their business operations within 6 months of a ransomware attack.
Ransomware and the dangerous pivot to data breaches
GDPR, CCPA, and similar regulations made it a big challenge for companies to safeguard and process customer data as governments expect businesses to protect customer data.
More importantly, European companies strengthened customer data privacy protections, passing the new GDPR law that requires businesses to report any kind of ransomware incident to local law enforcement authorities. In addition, businesses are also required to inform any and all affected stakeholders whose data was affected when they detect damage to their marketing data.
But what you see is often what you don’t get.
Reporting a data breach tarnishes a company’s image and brand perception. If it is a publicly-traded company, the stock can tank.
In worst-case scenarios, customers take their business somewhere else, forcing the company to accrue greater losses over a period of time, including the costs of business downtime and needed efforts to alleviate the fears of stakeholders.
Hackers are getting smarter each day. They target European companies complying with GDPR, hack their entire network, and threaten them if they fail to pay a hefty extortion amount. In cases where the amount is not paid, data are leaked on the dark web. Thus, in addition to their ability to damage your marketing data, hackers threaten you with breaches to GDPR laws and the consequences.
In a nutshell, here are some devastating impacts of a ransomware attack:
- Data encryption and business downtime
- Possible data breach and leakage if a business fails to pay the ransom
- Bad PR
- Ransom costs
- Cleanup costs after an attack
- Temporary or possible permanent closure of the business
- Complete loss of company data
And the list doesn’t end there. We didn’t mention how companies may have to fight legal battles for years even if they successfully recovered from the attack.
How companies can prevent and mitigate ransomware attacks
The responsibility of safeguarding customer data eventually lies with the company. But protection doesn’t come without a solid strategy in place. Protection methods require capabilities designed to prevent ransoms, backup data to the cloud in real-time to avoid encryption, and the ability to restore data with the minimum possible business downtime.
It is therefore important to have a cybersecurity policy in place, built by a company specializing in ransom data recovery and decryption services. It just isn’t enough to backup copies of your data onto external hard drives, you need a policy to prevent loss when hackers threaten to damage your marketing data.
Here are some methods for preventing and mitigating a ransomware attack:
- Keep your antivirus and anti-malware programs updated.
- Bring in a cybersecurity company to perform penetration testing on your network and get their recommendations for closing the holes.
- Keep multiple copies of data in locations such as external hard drives, images, and the cloud.
- Invest in proper cyber education of your employees.
- Do not open any email or click an attachment that you are not sure is legitimate.
Understanding and eliminating the root causes of an attack is often the safest method of preventing an attack in the long term. Remember that you are the first line of defense against any form of attack. It all starts with you and ends with you.
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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.