Guest Column | December 11, 2013

Don't Let CryptoLocker Hold You or Your Customers Ransom

By Mike Foreman, General Manager, SMB, AVG Technologies

In early November, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued an alert about CryptoLocker ransomware Infections. According to US-CERT, CryptoLocker is a new variant of ransomware that restricts access to infected computers and demands that the victims provide a payment to the attackers in order to decrypt and recover their files.

There is nothing particularly new about CryptoLocker, which is a variation of ransom malware that has existed since the early 1990s. It usually spreads via email. Often, the victim will receive an email claiming to come from a well-known business, which in CyrptoLocker’s case is sometimes FedEx or UPS, according to US-CERT. The email contains an attachment in the form a zip file and, if opened, reveals the malware executable code disguised as a PDF file. Clicking on this PDF icon releases the malware into the computer where it encrypts your files and demands a ransom for the decryption code. Even more disturbing, if the encrypted files are shared on a network, USB or external hard drive the malware can spread to other machines.

Malware like CryptoLocker can be especially harmful to small businesses and resellers with precious customer information, especially given that it spreads predominantly through email attachments — a regular form of communication for resellers and MSPs. If one employee is harmed, your entire business could be at risk since the attack can quickly spread to other computers on your company’s shared network drive.

Best practices like keeping your Internet security software up-to-date, communicating risks to employees, and regularly backing up your data are usually sufficient to keep you and your customers’ data protected from this kind of attack. But even with threats like CrypoLocker trolling the web, research we conducted in October suggests that among smaller businesses, backing up data is often not as regular or as comprehensive as it should be.

What is the value of your data?

The research study, which looked at 500 small businesses in North America, clearly shows that the small business owners and managers surveyed still do not understand the true value of their data. Although the majority (75 percent) use automated backup systems, most spend more time tidying their desk or ordering new business cards than backing up. Additionally, the stats revealed that because most of these businesses have not experienced losing a company-owned mobile device, they are not really conscious of the need to protect the sensitive data on them.

With 1 in 3 small businesses saying that more than half of their data is business sensitive, we would expect them to take more precaution about backing up that data. For resellers and MSPs especially, customer trust and customer information are essential and provide value to your business, so keeping their data safe from risks like malware and ransomware is critical.

What if your computers are infected?

If your business is unlucky enough to suffer an infection, disconnect from any networks and call in a professional to clean the affected computers. We do not advise ever paying a ransom. After all, there is no guarantee that the attacker will send you the decryption key after being paid.

Instead, we advise small businesses and MSPs to take the following precautions to stay protected from such attacks:

  • Always back up your files — locally, at a minimum, but we advise using an online (cloud) backup service.
  • Save your work in the cloud. For example, upload photos to online accounts like Flickr.
  • Use a spam- and virus-filtered email service.
  • Use caution when clicking on advertisements.
  • Never open Twitter links or attachments from people you don't know or trust.
  • Make sure your operating system is up-to-date with the latest security.
  • Install the latest versions of your Internet browsers and update add-ons such as Java and Adobe Flash.
  • Use reputable anti-virus software and ensure you update it frequently.

Following these simple guidelines can help to keep your business safe from ransomware and save you and your customers lot of grief. And if you are in any doubt as to just how secure your business is, take our small business IT security health check.


Mike Foreman is the General Manager of the SMB group at AVG Technologies, where he is dedicated to uncomplicating the lives of SMBs and the channel partners that serve them.

AVG CloudCare Online Backup provides resellers with a simple, cost-effective way to offer their small business customers encrypted, military-grade backup using a pay-as-you-use model available with other AVG CloudCare services. Learn more by visiting