Valley First

Small businesses vulnerable to ransomware, says expert

Awareness, lack of resources are key obstacles

June 15, 2016

Penticton, B.C.—Following the University of Calgary’s ransomware payout, a local technology expert is urging small businesses to review their security practices.

“Small businesses are particularly susceptible to ransomware attacks because they often lack the technical resources to deal with them,” says John Holbrook, senior IT security analyst at Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union.

Add to this the findings of a new survey from antivirus giant Kaspersky, which found 43 per cent of people don’t know what ransomware is and only 13 per cent of Canadians said ransomware was one of the top five cyber threats they were concerned about.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money—the ransom—is paid. When targeting businesses or organizations, hackers will often try to get an employee to unknowingly download ransomware, which then locks files on the computer through encryption. The files can only be unlocked with a key, which the hackers offer for a price.

It can be tempting for small business owners to just pay the money and move on with things. In the United Kingdom, a recent survey commissioned by software company Citrix found small business owners were preparing to pay: one-third of those surveyed had money set aside for ransom.

“With little to no tech resources, it sounds easier to just pay the hacker and get on with life, but in most cases that’s not a good idea,” says Holbrook. “There’s no honour among thieves, so you have no guarantee the hacker is going to release your data after receiving payment. You’re also setting a precedent that you’re willing to pay and that may open you up to repeated attacks.”

Holbrook says owners can build up the cyber defences of their business by reviewing technology practices and tools.

“Number one, make sure you have antivirus software on every computer you use for your business and make sure it’s updating regularly,” he says. “Second, consider backing up your data regularly—that makes it easier to restore data in the event of a ransomware attack.”

Holbrook says his third recommendation is the most important, but the trickiest to carry out.

“Look at how your computer systems are used in your business, especially those with important business data,” he says. “Consider doing an audit so you can get a good grasp on who has access to your systems and how the systems are being used. You could be vulnerable to an attack if you allow employees or other people to email, surf the web or access social media from a work computer with confidential information.”

Holbrook also suggests owners look at the security of their Wi-Fi network, in particular smartphone access.

Business owners can learn more about protecting their business by starting with the federal government’s resources at or seeking a security expert.

About Valley First

Valley First is a premier provider of banking, investment and insurance services for residents and businesses in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Thompson valleys. As a division of First West Credit Union, B.C.'s third-largest credit union with 54 branches and 38 insurance offices throughout the province, Valley First brings innovative products, an extensive branch network and local decision making to the banking experience. For more information on Valley First, visit

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