The Rise of Ransomware: Understanding the Threat and Protecting Your Nonprofits’ Data

Posted on
17 Apr 2023
by Femi Atoyebi - The Wheel

In today's digital age, cybersecurity has become a significant concern for individuals and organizations. The increasing dependence on technology has exacerbated the risk of cyber threats such as hacking, malware, and phishing attacks.

Nonprofits are especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks because they often have limited resources for cybersecurity. This is coupled with the fact that they often hold sensitive and valuable data.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that infects a computer system and demands payment in exchange for the release of encrypted data or control of the system. It is one of the most significant cybersecurity threats to individuals, businesses, and governments worldwide. In this blog post, we will discuss what ransomware is, how it works, its impact, and how to prevent it.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files on a computer system and demands payment in exchange for the decryption key. The attackers typically demand payment in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, to make it difficult to trace the transactions.

Ransomware can infect a computer system in several ways, including through malicious email attachments, infected websites, or software vulnerabilities. Once the ransomware infects a system, it can quickly spread across the network, encrypting files and demanding payment from each infected computer.

How Ransomware Works

Ransomware works by using encryption algorithms to lock files on a computer system, making them inaccessible to the user. The ransomware then displays a message on the screen, demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key. The attackers often threaten to delete the encrypted files or leak sensitive data if the payment is not made.

Ransomware can be categorized into two types: encryption ransomware and locker ransomware. Encryption ransomware encrypts the victim's files and demands payment for the decryption key. Locker ransomware, on the other hand, locks the victim out of their system entirely, making it impossible to access any data until the ransom is paid.

Impact of Ransomware

The impact of ransomware can be devastating for individuals and businesses alike. If the victim chooses not to pay the ransom, they may lose access to their critical data, which can result in significant financial losses, reputational damage, and even legal liabilities.

Ransomware attacks can also disrupt critical infrastructure, such as healthcare systems, power grids, and transportation networks, leading to widespread panic and disruption.

Preventing Ransomware

Preventing ransomware requires a multi-layered approach that includes technical and human factors. Here are some tips to protect your organisation from ransomware attacks:

  • Train employees: To combat increasing cyber threats, organisations invest in cybersecurity technologies and tools such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and antivirus software. However, the most critical element in ensuring cybersecurity is the people. The weakest link in computer or cybersecurity is the people. Your organisation’s data, information and security starts with the employees. People are the first line of defense against cyber threats. They are the human firewall that protects an organization's digital assets from external and internal threats. The human firewall refers to the individuals within an organization who are responsible for ensuring that the organization's information technology (IT) infrastructure is secure. They are responsible for following the best cybersecurity practices, identifying potential threats, and reporting suspicious activities. They should also be aware of the consequences of downloading attachments from unknown sources. Training your employees will build employee behaviour towards cyber security consciousness. Employee training should cover the best practices for password management, software updates, and safe browsing. Employees should also be educated on the importance of protecting sensitive data and the consequences of a cyberattack.
  • Keep your software up to date: Software vulnerabilities are a common entry point for ransomware. Ensure that all your software, including operating systems and applications, are up to date with the latest security patches.
  • Use anti-malware software: Install anti-malware software and keep it up to date to protect your system against ransomware and other malware.
  • Be cautious of email attachments: Do not open email attachments from unknown senders or suspicious emails, even if they appear to be from someone you know. For all emails, the best practice is to proceed with caution.
  • Use strong passwords: Use strong and unique passwords for all accounts, and encourage employees to do the same to prevent unauthorized access to your system.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication: Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain access to your charity's systems.
  • Back up your data: Regularly back up your critical data to an external hard drive or cloud storage. In the event of a ransomware attack, you can restore your data without paying the ransom. It is essential to store backups offline and offsite, and test their effectiveness regularly.
  • Limit access to sensitive data: Limit access to sensitive data to only those who need it. Use role-based access control to ensure that employees can only access the data necessary for their job.
  • Develop an incident response plan: Have a plan in place to respond to a ransomware attack. This plan should include procedures for containing the attack, restoring data from backups, and communicating with stakeholders.


Ransomware is a significant threat to individuals, businesses, and governments worldwide. It can result in significant financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. Protecting your charity from ransomware attacks requires a multi-layered approach that includes technical and human factors, such as employee training, keeping software up to date, using anti-malware software, being cautious of email attachments and links, using strong passwords, implementing multifactor authentication, backing up your data regularly and preparedness.

People are the most critical element in ensuring cybersecurity. While technology plays a crucial role, the human firewall is the first line of defense against cyber threats.

By implementing these tips, your nonprofit can reduce the risk of a ransomware attack and minimize the damage caused by one.