Published in Financial Mail. During the festive season business and consumers have to be especially careful to protect themselves against cyberattacks. By Nafisa Akabor.

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It was midday on a Saturday when an employee at one of SA’s oldest e-commerce sites opened an e-mail, clicked a link and followed the “continue” prompt.

An hour later, systems were slow and every single file on the server of Joburg-based business Autostyle Motorsport had an mp3 extension. Inside each folder there was a text document with a ransomware demand for 1.5 bitcoin (about R7,000 at the time).

In the first 24 hours, Autostyle staff tried everything they could to deal with the hack, which paralysed their systems. Its digital strategist, Naeem Mayet, hired freelance tech experts and learnt about encryption, cryptocurrencies and ransomware before realising there was no easy way to unlock the files.

“We decided to pay the R7,000 instead of redoing an entire stock take for that busy Saturday, which was also cheaper than a consultant cost of R15,000-R20,000.

“There was always the concern that if we paid, nothing would happen, but fortunately, the second we made payment — it was all automated — we downloaded the decryption and within 15 minutes everything was back to normal,” says Mayet.

Autostyle has since moved to a cloud point of sale system so that it won’t have to rely on a local server, which Mayet says makes security easier to manage.

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