The Managing Director of a company held to ransom by hackers has warned other bosses to protect themselves against cyber crooks − or run the risk of web sharks crippling their businesses.
Stuart Kettell − owner of audio-visual specialist Kettell Video Productions − was targeted by tech scammers who infiltrated his firm’s IT systems with malware that infected its network of files.
They demanded £1,000 initially in Bitcoins to decrypt the malicious software − and warned that failure to pay would render the files permanently inaccessible.
Thankfully Stuart routinely backs-up all company systems − and even backs up the back-ups − so survived the online attack relatively unscathed.
But he’s warned that without the archive of replicas his entire business could have collapsed.
He said: “I noticed all my photos, videos and pdf files ghosting to white with a new filename…it attacked my desktop first then it wormed its way into folders one file at a time every few seconds.
“I’ve no idea how the malware was introduced as we use software that’s designed to prevent against such attacks. And the demand for payment seemed very professional: I was given links where I could buy Bitcoins and even offered the chance to decrypt one file for free!
“I unplugged my computer, isolated it from the internet, and ran some anti-malware software to stop the virus spreading further.
“It was scary: I had no idea about cyber-attacks before and really didn’t know what to do. Critical files, including images and videos for clients, were wiped out along with a lifetime of personal memories.
“The affected files were lost for good − the only way to recover them was with the key code held by the blackmailer − but luckily I back-up everything to an external data cartridge. In the end it was more an inconvenience…but it could have threatened the business.
“I would strongly urge all business owners to back-up their essential files."
Latest figures from the Crime Survey for England & Wales estimated there were 1.3-million computer virus offences and 667,000 hacking related offences committed in the year ending September 2016.
Sergeant Gary Sirrell from the cybercrime team at West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit said commercial web attacks are increasingly being committed against smaller firms and not big multi-nationals.
He explained: “Small and medium sized companies are easier targets: they often don’t have the resources or expertise to protect against cyberattacks. And if they are targeted, the impact can be devastating.
“But there are steps business owners can take to mitigate the risk. A really effective tactic involves ‘layering’ defences to include a firewall, anti-malware software, staff training and regular re-training) around phishing email awareness, and finally to plug any holes in your defences by updating software patches and updates in a timely manner.
“By exercising good cyber hygiene, and having a strong backup policy, Stuart avoided the dilemma of whether to see his business significantly damaged, or to have to hand over a ransom to organised crime gangs to get his data unlocked.
“If more businesses in the West Midlands proactively took such steps there would be significantly fewer crimes victims."
For more help and advice please go to www.getsafeonline.org and www.cyberaware.gov.uk.
The ‘ransomware’ attack on Warwick-based Kettell Video Productions happened in December 2015.