On Friday, May 12, 2017, a damaging ransomware attack swept across more than one hundred countries and infected tens of thousands of computers. As is becoming all too common, the hackers transmitted the ransomware via a phishing e-mail, and then, once the user clicked the bait, the hackers used a method thought to have been developed by the National Security Agency, and locked businesses out of their systems. The ransomware impacted businesses both large and small, notably including sixteen of Great Britain’s hospitals forcing them to turn patients away, FedEx, the Russian Interior Ministry and a large Spanish telecommunications company. While in the wake of the attack, affected businesses must focus on damage control and clean-up, unaffected businesses should react and take steps to protect themselves ahead of being on the receiving end of the next cyber incident. Accordingly, here are five things that all businesses can do.

1. Install All Patches and Upgrades to Systems When Issued. In the case of this ransomware attack, Microsoft released a patch weeks before the attack hit, which would have protected systems by not permitting the ransomware to take hold.

2. Back-Up All Vital Data on a Continuous Basis. This is of particular importance in ransomware attacks. Ransomware encrypts a victim’s data and will only provide a key for access upon the payment of ransom. The payment of a ransom, however, may be unnecessary when up-to-date backups are available.

3. Employee Training. Employees should be trained on a regular basis on how to identify phishing e-mails and how to avoid cyber attacks.

4. Purchase and/or Examine Cyber Security Insurance Policy for Compliance. If your business currently has a cyber security insurance policy, ensure that the policy adequately covers your needs and ensure that your business meets the security requirements attested to in such policy 

5. Perform a Risk Assessment and Develop a Response Plan. Assessing current systems will help to identify vulnerabilities that can be addressed proactively. For health care providers, HIPAA requires that covered entities perform a “risk analysis” to identify risks and security vulnerabilities and implement security measures that are sufficient to reduce such risks and vulnerabilities. Lack of an up-to-date risk analysis recently resulted in a fine of $400,000 against a health care provider (see April 25, 2017 article). Further, the assessment or analysis will assist with the development and implementation of a Security Incident Response Plan that is designed to ensure expedient and appropriate responses to cyber-attacks and to mitigate damage whenever possible.