You awake one Monday morning and prepare to head to work. A day like any other. A day much like last Monday and much like the one before that.

You enjoy the quiet of the early hours while packing your lunch and checking your schedule.

You arrive to the office and take a seat. Flashing on your display you see cute little skull and crossbones with a message across the screen: “WARNING YOUR FILES ARE ENCRYPTED. YOUR DOCUMENTS, PHOTOS, WORK, ARE LOCKED AND WILL BE DELETED WITH IN X HOURS IF YOU DON’T PAY 1.4BTC TO THE ADDRESS BELOW.”

You think this may be a joke someone is playing at your expense. It doesn’t really look too serious but your stomach sinks as you realize every item on your desktop has been replaced by an ever-so-similar but distinctly different glyph. The text that once read “Stevenson’s Project” now states “aqw43r32rspdfjasfeojwaej.docx.” Hours of work, locked away from you.

Your photos, the family trip to Puget Sound last spring, all of them are now showing as unreadable, illegible garbage.

You call your coworker in the office a few doors down and sure enough, same thing.

Your entire workplace has been infected, halted and caught metaphorical fire. What can you do?

Well ideally your organization’s IT has already been notified and is scrambling to track down and isolate the cause. Maybe you have a dedicated Managed Service Provider.

But what do you do if you are the IT? Are you a cozy office that tries to fix as much as you can on your own? Is your tech home sick with food poisoning and refusing to answer the phone?

Unplug the internet. This is the first and most crucial step. Make sure your PC isn’t connected to any other PC. Tell your coworkers, tell your boss, tell anyone within yelling distance to unplug.

Part of what makes these things so nasty is they slink from PC to PC, server to server, and just destroy everything.

If you catch it in time, you can limit the spread further, but …

What do you once you’ve unplugged? What if everyone is infected? What if it’s too late?

Ransomware is far too common, and it’s unfortunately the cause of many workless days and sleepless nights. But it doesn’t have to be.

There is no anti-virus that’s foolproof and no endpoint, detection and response that’s guaranteed to catch every new bug someone sells on the black market. But what is nearly foolproof? What is the strongest weakness of this superpowered foe?

BACKUPS! That’s right. Something so innocuous and easily overlooked. It sits quietly in the background, never asking for much. The occasional reboot or update. Maybe from time to time it mawkishly beeps from inside the closet. It gets retired and replaced after years of loyal service.

If you have been following the No. 1 rule of IT and you have managed your backups well, you can laugh in the face of these cyberpunk would-be bank robbers.

You can refuse their demands and you can use your very own superpower.

The importance of backup and disaster planning cannot be overstated. It’s fairly easy to implement. It’s generally far less than the cost of paying any ransom and you can rest easy knowing that from malware to hurricane, virus to flood, you will not be out in the cold, cold world wide web alone.

Randy Marrone is a network and security engineer at SimplePowerIT, whose background includes working with the Nevada Gaming Commission as an IT director for a casino. Marrone can be reached at (509) 433-7606.

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