Home Practice Management Now virtually all businesses are under threat from ransomware

Now virtually all businesses are under threat from ransomware


It used to be that ransomware was a problem that affected only large businesses with deep pockets. Now it is hitting businesses of all shapes and sizes. A 2018 report highlighted the fact that 71% of ransomware attacks were on small businesses.

Ransomware is on the rise, and accountants will be expected to alert their clients to the threats. Accountants used to confine themselves to the books – now they are expected to understand not just the financial risks to which clients are exposed, but the technological risks as well.

What is ransomware? It’s a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

And those risks are becoming more severe: “The increase (in ransomware) is due to hackers mixing and matching malware components to create new variants, which makes it more difficult for tech to detect and identify these threats,” according to a report from Beazley Breach Response Services.

These technological risks have financial implications, and accountants are expected to bring these to the attention of cliens.

SecurityHQ recently released a white paper exploring the major threats to firms in the financial sector. This is what they found.


In the three years since the term was added to the dictionary, ransomware has increased dramatically both in terms of the number of attacks, but also in terms of the range of methods used to conduct said attacks. Attackers are extremely sophisticated. Once they have your data, there is no guarantee that if you pay them, that your data will be given back or decrypted. There is also no guarantee that you will not be a target a second time around. Often, once an attack is made, the bad actor will sell the details on to their associates to go after the victim again after deployment, because the payload can still be there, activated and deactivated.

Internal threats

According to the Verizon, 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) ‘employees’ mistakes account for roughly the same number of breaches as external parties who are actively attacking’ the organisation. In fact, misdelivery within the company, by which information has inadvertently been sent to the wrong person, appears to be the most common issue within insider threats. Misdelivery can occur via emails forwarded or sent to the wrong person/recipient, or by incorporating the wrong mailing list, or via the wrong address on a paper document. Misdelivery is, more often than not, accidental and non-malicious, but the effects can be devastating. Especially if sensitive data is inadvertently shared to the wrong recipient.

App developments

Apps surrounding investment and finance have grown substantially in 2020. This, in part, is a good thing, as the ability to invest online is quick and easy, and accessible to all. But due to the demand, many of these apps were developed quickly and are underprepared for cyber-attacks. Many do not provide two-factor authentication, are not supported by the appropriate regulations, are not patched or maintained properly, and do not have contingency plans in place to mitigate the effects of a cyber-attack. As a result, personal information of app users is relatively easy to steal and sell. This can be done by creating duplicate fraudulent apps to trick the user. On these duplicate apps, the imagery and language of the genuine app is mirrored. And, once the personal information is supplied, both real and virtual money is then accessible. Thus, the circle of ransomware ensues.  

Third-party risks

These days, few organisations work on their own. The majority use third parties, including vendors, partners, e-mail providers, service providers, web hosting, law firms, data management companies, subcontractors and so on. With regards to many of these, from IT systems to sensitive information shared with legal teams, these third parties could easily be a backdoor into your financial systems for attackers to infiltrate.


Cyber criminals are continuing to target the financial sector amidst the pandemic. As a result, we have seen a spike in attacks on banks, financial organisations and the third parties connected to them. Before COVID-19, if an attacker wanted to sabotage a company or steal data, they would target the business itself. The website, the social accounts, the logins and all their vulnerabilities. In response, organisations had parameters set up for this. But now, you just need to target a single remote worker.

In response to these five threats, banks and financial institutions require tailored and sophisticated security to support their systems and people, and to defend against an onslaught of complex and aggressive cyber-attacks. Not only must security compliance within the financial sector be tenfold, but it is essential that security precautions evolve, to mirror the growing threat landscape.

To read more about these threats, to explore a real-life analysis within the financial sector, and to learn how to mitigate your industry specific threats, download the white paper here.