Held to ransom? Make sure you’ve backed up

It’s the middle of the afternoon. The day is going well. Business is good. Then you notice something strange about your computer. You can’t access your documents. Applications have stopped working. And then a pop-up appears: “This computer has been locked and will not be unlocked until payment is made.”

Your business has fallen victim to ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts data on infected systems. When the malware is run, it locks victims’ files and allows criminals to demand payment to release them. In the year to March 2016, more than 700,000 users were affected, a five-fold increase on the previous year. “It has become so widespread that it could easily be called an epidemic,” says one malware analyst.

Ransomware has typically been targeted at individuals with demands of a few hundred pounds, but increasingly businesses and organisations – small and large – are falling victim. In 2015, malware cost them more than £250m. One option, not recommended by authorities, is to pay. Another is to have a system in place that allows valuable data to be recovered and puts a business or organisation on its feet again.

“One well-established business we know lost 370GB of data to ransomware – designs, intellectual property, research and development, accounts, payroll, everything,” said Philip Mowatt, a director of ITWORX, a specialist IT and communications man- aged services provider. “It happened at 3pm but within a matter of hours we had everything back up and running.”

The company didn’t pay a penny to the hackers; it was running Datto, a comprehensive backup, recovery and business continuity solution. Datto’s purpose-built cloud and family of software and hardware devices provides total data protection wherever a business or organisation’s data resides. Whether it is onsite in a physical or virtual server, in the cloud, or in ‘software-as-a-service’ applications, Datto offers end-to-end recoverability and single-vendor accountability.

“It’s market leading,” said Mowatt. “Multiple technologies combined on a single device that is easily deployed, runs in the background and provides business continuity. Traditionally, business continuity was a feature of big companies only. But Datto is enterprise level technology that is affordable for even small and medium-sized businesses.”

Fellow ITWORX director Jill Ross added: “That’s a key point; people expect these technologies to come with a hefty price tag. One client we worked with was surprised to discover that the Datto solution for them cost one-tenth of their existing system of backup. It is a game-changer.”

Educating Employees about the risk of ransomware and using up-to- date anti-virus software is fundamental in reducing exposure, but because ransomware is constantly evolving even the best security software can be breached. That is why a secondary layer of defence – backup – is critical for businesses to ensure recovery in case malware strikes.

Datto takes snapshot-based, incremental backups as frequently as every ve minutes to create a series of recovery points. If a business suffers a ransomware attack, this technology allows the rm to roll back data to a point-in-time before the corruption oc- curred. Additionally, it can allow users to run applications from image-based backups of virtual machines. Known as ‘instant recovery’ it allows operations to continue while the primary systems are being restored and with little or no downtime.

ITWORX is an award-winning Microsoft-managed partner, Cisco premier partner and Datto elite partner headquartered in Aberdeen that specialises in cloud communications and collaboration technologies. It is well established in the oil and gas sector, but also has clients in engineering, construction, local government and the professions – where long-term preservation of historical legal and financial data is essential.

The company is also winning busi- ness in retail and moving into the hospitality sector. And its products are increasingly being adopted by SMEs and enterprises alike: “So much so,” said Mowatt, “that last year we won an innovation award for the implementa- tion of Datto’s total data protection platform at North Star Shipping, a divi- sion of the global shipping and energy rm Craig Group.”

ITWORX also deploys another innovative technology: Meraki, Cisco’s cloud-based mobility management system. It is capable of unifying management and control of thousands of mobile and desktop devices in a secure, browser-based dashboard. Devices can be added, monitored, updated and configured remotely. Enterprise and personal data on devices can be kept separate.

“In the case of North Star Shipping,” said Ross, “the Craig Group had a clear requirement in terms of protecting against data loss and providing business continuity, which is where Datto came in. But then we were able to look at this complementary piece of technology, Meraki. In an environment like the North Sea, where bandwidth is expensive, it allows an organisation to effectively monitor, control and support mobile device use.”

And in the same way that Datto has the potential to find a new home in countless business and organisations of all sizes and types, it is clear that so too does Meraki, given the rapidly growing importance of mobile device management in a wide range of settings.