How to Protect Ministry Computers Against Ransomware Attacks

Backing up data frequently can help your ministry recover, if computers are affected

Ransomware attacks regularly cripple thousands of computers every day, locking users out of important files and demanding payment to regain access. More than 200,000 organizations in 150 countries were crippled by the WannaCrypt ransomware attack May 12-14, which stopped spreading after a British researcher identified the malware’s kill switch. The attack illustrated how swiftly malware could encrypt multiple computer networks, especially those relying on older software (like many nonprofits). Take the following steps to reduce your vulnerability, so your ministry can operate without interruption.

How to Prevent Infection

1. Back up critical files. Imagine the setback you would face if a cyberattack destroyed all ministry records—forever. Back up business records daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on how often data is edited and your tolerance for risk. Experts recommend creating two back-up copies: one stored in the cloud and another stored in a secure, off-site location, such as a safe deposit box. Doing regular backups also protects your ministry data against other devastating events, such as a hard drive crash or fire.

2. Update software. Run an update to get the latest version of your operating system. WannaCrypt targeted a specific weakness in Windows XP, which Microsoft stopped supporting in April 2014. Windows and Mac computers can be set to automatically apply security updates, which fix vulnerabilities exploited by hackers. Many of the programs and apps on your computer can also be set to automatically apply updates. Enable the automatic settings now, so you don’t forget to do it later.

3. Run anti-virus software. Anti-virus software can help prevent some ransomware attacks or reduce their effectiveness, but only if it’s up to date. Check to make sure your anti-virus product is still operating, and that it’s automatically running scans to identify any malicious programs. Some free anti-virus software is available—check the licensing terms to make sure that the free use includes use in a church or non-profit ministry.

What to do if Ransomware Attacks Your Computer?

If you suspect that ransomware or a software virus has compromised a ministry computer, respond immediately to minimize the damage.

1. Disconnect the affected computer. Remove the computer from the internet and other network connections, such as Wi-Fi, so that the infection doesn’t spread.

2. Do not immediately pay ransom. Consider sending money to cybercriminals as your last resort, and don’t do it yourself. A computer security firm can help your ministry assess whether paying a ransom will actually restore your data. It can also manage the payment, typically handled with Bitcoin. Note: Insurance policies typically don’t cover lost data or ransomware payments, so your ministry could face an uninsured loss in either scenario.

3. Report the incident. If you suspect your ministry’s data has been hacked, contact law enforcement immediately. This is especially critical if financial information has been compromised. Notify your insurance agent or insurance company’s claims department, as well. Your ministry may have cyber liability protection that can help you recover from the damage.