Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's businesses not immune to ransomware: security expert

A security expert in St. John’s is offering suggestions on how best to prevent the scourge of “ransomware”.

Jon Seary says ransomware can be avoided by taking some simple precautions

Memorial University recently dealt with two computers afflicted with "ransomware," a type of virus where computers are locked down by cyber thieves and money is demanded online. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

A security expert in St. John's is offering suggestions for local businesses on how to prevent the scourge of ransomware –  a type of malware that holds private data hostage until a large sum is paid – because they can be targeted. 

"It's not just something that happens up in Toronto or down in the states," said Jon Seary, business technology consultant. 

"This is a conversation that business owners or people who are responsible for the business need to have with whoever is providing their IT services."

I've heard of ransoms being demanded as much as $15,000 from local businesses.- Jon Seary

Seary said the virus is usually transmitted through spam emails often disguised as legitimate ones, and the price to remove ransomware usually isn't cheap.

Jon Seary says ransomware is easy to avoid if you take the proper precautions. (Canadian Press)

"I've heard of ransoms being demanded as much as $15,000 from local businesses," he said. 

Seary said hackers often charge in Bitcoin, a virtual currency that can be extremely cumbersome to purchase.

"Every couple months we get a call from somebody we've been asked to look over."

Easy to avoid with precautions

While ransomware may sound dire, Seary said it's easy to avoid if the necessary precautions are taken. 

He told CBC's On the Go Friday the best way to avoid being infected is to use common sense and make sure you have up to date and easily accessible backups of your most important data.

St. John's business technology consultant Jon Seary is warning local businesses about ransomware. (Twitter/Jon Seary)

Users who have access to a company email account should be mindful before clicking attachments or unknown links and employers need to educate their employees about what to watch out for, said Seay. 

A proper backup that isn't linked to a desktop computer, a good antivirus, and limited access to the main network can also help.

"This is really, really easy to protect yourself against and it's absolutely nonsensical that anybody should allow themselves to get hit," said Seary. 

With files from On the Go