Ransomware attacks continue to impact Australian businesses —and the costs are staggering. A recent survey of over 1,100 IT decision-makers at small and midsize businesses found that in Australia and New Zealand, 53% had been targeted by a ransomware attack.

These numbers are not expected to improve soon. Despite spending billions on cybersecurity tools, businesses are still poorly prepared for ransomware attacks. Only a quarter (25%) of all ANZ respondents said they’re very confident in their ability to recover lost data in the event of a ransomware attack. Smaller businesses are even less well prepared. Under 20% are very confident in their ability to recover lost data in the event of a ransomware attack.

Meanwhile, the attack surface continues to expand as businesses using technologies like IoT, artificial intelligence, and 5G generate even more data—data that can be compromised and held captive by ransomware attackers.

For this reason, businesses must take a new approach to data resilience, by strengthening their disaster-recovery strategies, backup systems, and immutable storage solutions to prevent the loss of mission-critical data. With ransomware attacks increasing yearly, data backup and recovery should be at the very top of every SMB’s priority list.

Here are five steps businesses can take now to reduce their exposure to ransomware and avoid staggering losses.

Educate employees

Invest in training for staff so that they’re aware of how ransomware works. From there, employees will be better prepared to recognise and prevent it. They should know that ransomware can sneak in from anywhere. The training should remind them to scrutinise every link in emails and not open attachments in unsolicited emails.

Employees should be reminded to download only software—especially free—from websites they know and trust. When possible, employees should verify the integrity of downloaded software through a digital signature before execution.

Focus on cures as well as prevention

Businesses continue to invest loads of money in cybersecurity solutions like next-generation firewalls and extended detection and response (XDR) systems designed to prevent attacks. Yet these same companies are still falling prey to ransomware and being forced to pay a hefty price.

Stop focusing entirely on prevention, and invest in curative measures like backup & recovery and immutable storage that allow them to quickly restore their data and avoid paying the ransom when attackers break in.

Regular data backups and encryption play a key role in protecting an organisation’s data. A consistent backup schedule will enable you to seamlessly restore any compromised systems or data. Encrypting your sensitive data is also highly recommended. After all, if ransomware attackers gain access to your critical assets, encryption has the benefit of keeping data from being read and further exploited by the bad guys.

Place a premium on data resilience

Your data resilience is only as strong as your weakest link. Monitor your weaknesses, fix them when you find them, and you can bounce back quickly from disruption and return to normal operation. To do this, you must have the technologies required to back up your data and recover it if necessary, along with the proper mindset. That means a defensive posture is regularly sustained with drills that simulate an intrusion to measure your resiliency and bolster it where necessary.

All companies should regularly test their data backup and recovery plans to ensure they can effectively restore their data and systems if an attack or natural disaster occurs.

Know what data is most critical

Data varies in value. Most organisations are concerned about costs and do not have to store or back up all your data in the same place. Look into storage solutions that provide options like data tiering. These enable you to place less-important data in less-expensive levels of storage or “tiers.”

Another upside of data tiering is lower energy costs. You’ll use less compute power if you’re not storing every last byte of your data at the highest security level.

Put a disaster-recovery plan in place

Despite all the preventive measures you take, you need to prepare for the possibility that you will get hit. You need to be able to back up data as often as is appropriate—ideally every 15 minutes for critical data. You also need to easily verify that your whole environment is backed up, including your remote workers and any SaaS applications you use, such as Microsoft 365.

A good disaster-recovery solution will back up your data to a location of your choice and on a schedule that suits you. It will also be easy to test, which is crucial because testing is the only way you can validate that your recovery-time goals can be met. It may seem obvious, but this is where a lot of solutions fall short. Your disaster-recovery solution must be able to recover your data every time and on time. When ransomware hits, you want to be confident you can recover your data and get on with business as soon as possible.

The best approach to ransomware is a multi-layered one that includes educating your staff, investing in reliable data backup & recovery and immutable storage solutions, and having a robust disaster recovery plan.