Ransomware is a type of virus that uses encryption to hold a victim’s important files. The vital data of a person or organisation is encrypted, making it impossible for them to access files, databases, or apps. Then a ransom is asked in order to gain access. Ransomware is frequently designed to propagate over a network and target database and file servers, paralysing a whole enterprise in the process. It’s a growing menace that generates billions of dollars in payouts to hackers while causing considerable damage and costs to businesses and government agencies.
What is the mechanism of ransomware?
Asymmetric encryption is used by ransomware. This is a type of encryption that encrypts and decrypts a file using a pair of keys. The attacker generates a unique public-private pair of keys for the victim, with the private key used to decrypt files saved on the attacker’s server. The attacker usually only gives the victim the private key once the ransom is paid, but as recent ransomware operations have shown, this is not always the case. It’s nearly hard to decode the files being held for ransom without access to the private key.
There are many different types of ransomware. Ransomware (and other malware) is frequently spread through email spam campaigns or targeted attacks. To establish its presence on an endpoint, malware requires an attack vector. After establishing its presence, malware remains on the system until its mission is completed.
Ransomware drops and runs a malicious payload on the affected system after a successful exploit. This programme then looks for and encrypts important files including Microsoft Word documents, photos, databases, and so on. The ransomware might also spread to other systems and possibly across large enterprises by exploiting system and network flaws.
Once data have been encrypted, ransomware will demand payment of a ransom within 24 to 48 hours or the files would be permanently lost. If a data backup isn’t available, or if the backups are encrypted, the victim will have to pay the ransom to get their files back.
What is the reason for the spread of ransomware?
For numerous reasons, ransomware attacks and their variants are rapidly changing to resist preventive technologies:
Malware kits are readily available and can be used to manufacture fresh malware samples on demand.
New techniques, such as encrypting the entire drive rather than just chosen data, are being used.
Thieves of today don’t even need to be tech savvy. Ransomware markets have sprung up online, giving malware strains to any would-be cybercriminal and earning additional revenue for malware creators, who frequently demand a part of the ransom money.
Why is it so difficult to track down ransomware authors?
The use of anonymous cryptocurrencies for payment, such as bitcoin, makes it harder to track down criminals and follow the money trail. Cybercriminals are increasingly creating ransomware tactics in order to make a quick buck. Open-source code and drag-and-drop platforms for developing ransomware have sped up the generation of new ransomware variations and made it easier for beginner scripters to generate their own ransomware. Modern malware, such as ransomware, is typically polymorphic by design, allowing hackers to quickly circumvent traditional signature-based security based on file hash.
What is ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) and how does it work?
Ransomware-as-a-service is a cybercrime business model that allows virus creators to profit from their work without having to disseminate it. Non-technical criminals purchase these products and use them to spread diseases, paying the creators a part of their profits. The developers take little risks, and their clients handle the majority of the job. Some ransomware-as-a-service applications require subscriptions, while others require registration to access the malware. Get more information on ransomware-as-a-service.
How to Protect Yourself From Ransomware?
Follow these steps to avoid ransomware and minimise damage if you are harmed:
- Make a copy of your data. The easiest approach to avoid being locked out of your important information is to keep backup copies of them on hand, preferably in the cloud and on an external hard drive. If you do get infected with ransomware, you can wipe your computer or device clean and restore your contents from backup. This safeguards your data, and you won’t be tempted to pay a ransom to the malware creators. Backups will not prevent ransomware, but they will help to reduce the dangers.
- Make sure your backups are safe. Make sure your backup data isn’t accessible from the systems where it’s stored for alteration or deletion. Because ransomware will hunt for and encrypt or erase data backups, making them unrecoverable, employ backup methods that do not enable direct access to backup files.
- Use and keep security software up to date. Ensure that all of your computers and gadgets are protected by comprehensive security software, and that all of your software is current. Make sure you update your devices’ software on a regular basis, as flaw patches are normally included in each release.
- Use caution when surfing. Be cautious about where you click. Do not respond to unsolicited emails or SMS messages, and only download apps from reputable sources. This is critical because malware authors frequently employ social engineering to persuade you to install malicious files.
- Use only secure networks. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks since many of them are insecure, allowing thieves to track your online activities. Instead, try using a VPN, which will give you a secure internet connection no matter where you go.
- Keep yourself up to date. Keep up to date on the most recent ransomware threats so you know what to avoid. If you suffer a ransomware attack and haven’t backed up all of your files, know that IT companies have made decryption tools available to help victims.
- Make a security awareness programme a priority. Every member of your organisation should receive regular security awareness training to help them avoid phishing and other social engineering attacks. Regular drills and testing should be conducted to ensure that training is being followed.
9 actions to take in the event of a ransomware attack
It’s critical to respond fast if you feel you’ve been the victim of a ransomware assault. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of reducing damage and rapidly getting back to business as usual.
Isolate the infected device: Ransomware that just affects a single device is a minor annoyance. Allowing ransomware to infect all of your company’s equipment is a massive disaster that might put you out of business forever. The distinction between the two is frequently due to reaction time. It’s critical to unplug the afflicted device from the network, internet, and other devices as soon as possible to protect the safety of your network, shared files, and other devices. The sooner you do so, the less likely you are to infect other devices.
Stop the spread of ransomware: Because ransomware spreads quickly—and the infected device isn’t always Patient Zero—immediate isolation of the infected device won’t guarantee that the ransomware isn’t present elsewhere on your network. To effectively limit the breadth of the attack, you’ll need to unplug all suspicious devices from the network, including those operating off-premises—if they’re linked to the network, they’re a threat no matter where they are. It’s also a good idea to turn off wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.) at this time.
Calculate the losses: Check for recently encrypted files with peculiar file extension names, as well as reports of strange file names or users having problems accessing files, to establish which devices have been affected. If you find any devices that haven’t been fully encrypted, isolate them and turn them off to help contain the attack and prevent future data loss and damage. Your goal is to compile a thorough list of all systems that have been compromised, including network storage devices, cloud storage, external hard drive storage (including USB thumb drives), laptops, smartphones, and any other possible vectors. It’s a good idea to lock in your shares at this stage. If possible, restrict all of them; if not, restrict as many as you can. This will stop any continuing encryption operations and prevent further shares from becoming infected while the problem is being fixed. However, before you do so, you should examine the encrypted shares. This can offer you with some important information: You may have just discovered your Patient Zero if one device has a much higher number of open files than usual. Otherwise…
Locate Patient Zero: Once you’ve found the source of the virus, it’ll be much easier to track it down. Check for any notifications from your antivirus/antimalware, EDR, or any other active monitoring platform to do so. Asking people about their activities (such as opening strange emails) and what they’ve noticed might also be valuable because most ransomware enters networks via malicious email links and attachments, which need an end user activity. Finally, looking at the attributes of the files can reveal something—the person named as the owner is almost certainly the access point. (However, keep in mind that there could be more than one Patient Zero!)
Identify the ransomware: Before you move any further, you need to figure out the ransomware variant you’re dealing with. One approach is to go to No More Ransom, a global campaign in which McAfee is involved. The Crypto Sheriff tool is one of a number of tools available on the site to assist you in reclaiming your data: Simply upload an encrypted file and it will search for a match. You can also utilise the following information from the ransom note: If the ransomware variation isn’t explicitly stated, utilising a search engine to look into the email address or the note itself can help. After you’ve discovered the ransomware and done some preliminary study into its behaviour, you should notify all unaffected staff as quickly as possible so they can learn how to recognise the indicators of infection.
Report the ransomware to authorities: You should alert law enforcement as soon as the ransomware has been contained for various reasons. To begin with, ransomware is illegal, and as with any other crime, it should be reported to the appropriate authorities. Second, “Law enforcement may be able to employ legal authority and tools that are unavailable to most organisations,” according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Partnerships with international law enforcement can be used to aid in the recovery of stolen or encrypted data and the prosecution of the culprits. Finally, the attack may have ramifications for compliance: If you don’t tell the ICO within 72 hours of a data breach involving EU citizens, you could face stiff penalties under the GDPR.
Examine your backups: It’s time to get started on the response. Restoring your systems from a backup is the quickest and easiest way to do it. Ideally, you’ll have a clean and complete backup that was made recently enough to be useful. If that’s the case, the next step is to use an antivirus/antimalware solution to ensure that all affected systems and devices are clean of ransomware—otherwise, it’ll keep locking your system and encrypting your files, perhaps destroying your backup. You’ll be able to restore your systems from this backup once all traces of malware have been removed, and you’ll be ready to resume business as usual once you’ve verified that all data has been recovered and all apps and processes are back up and operating normally. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t appreciate the value of establishing and keeping backups until they need them and can’t find them. Because current ransomware is becoming more sophisticated and robust, some people who do make backups discover that the ransomware has also corrupted or encrypted them, rendering them unusable.
Investigate your decryption options: If you don’t have a backup, there’s still a chance you can recover your data. At No More Ransom, you can find a growing number of free decryption keys. You’ll be able to use the decryption key to unlock your data if one is available for the ransomware type you’re dealing with (and presuming you’ve removed all traces of malware from your machine by now). Even if you locate a decryptor, you’re not out of the woods yet—you might expect hours or days of downtime as you work on remediation.
Now let’s move on: Unfortunately, if you don’t have any backups and can’t find a decryption key, your only choice may be to scrap everything and start again. Rebuilding will not be a quick or inexpensive procedure, but it is the best alternative once all other options have been exhausted.
Why don’t I simply pay the ransom?
It may be tempting to give in to a ransom demand when faced with the prospect of weeks or months of rehabilitation. However, there are a number of reasons why this is not a good idea:
It’s possible that you’ll never acquire a decryption key. You’re meant to get a decryption key when you pay a ransomware demand. When you perform a ransomware trade, however, you are relying on the perpetrators’ honesty. Many people and organisations have paid the ransom only to receive nothing in return, leaving them with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and the need to rebuild their systems from the ground up.
It’s possible that you’ll receive repeated ransom demands. Once you pay a ransom, the crooks behind the ransomware know you’re helpless. If you’re willing to spend a little (or a lot) more, they might provide you a functional key.
You might get a decryption key that actually works. The authors of ransomware aren’t in the business of recovering files; they’re in the business of making money. To put it another way, the decryptor you receive may be sufficient for the crooks to claim they kept their half of the bargain. Furthermore, the encryption procedure has been known to corrupt some files beyond repair. Even a good decryption key won’t be able to access your files if this happens—they’ll be lost forever.
It’s possible that you’re creating a target on your back. Criminals realise you’re a good investment after you pay a ransom. An established target with a track record of paying the ransom is more appealing than a new target that may or may not pay. What’s to stop the same group of crooks from hitting you again in a year or two, or from getting onto a forum and stating that you’re an easy target to other cybercriminals?
Even if everything turns out great, you’re still helping to subsidise criminal behaviour. Assume you pay the ransom, acquire a working decryptor key, and restore service. This is the best-case situation (and not simply because you’ve lost a lot of money). You are sponsoring criminal activity when you pay the ransom. You’re encouraging the idea that ransomware is a viable business model, even though the moral ramifications are evident.
(Think about it: do you think they’d keep releasing ransomware if no one ever paid the ransom?) These criminals will continue to wreak havoc on unwary organisations, spending time and money into developing newer and even more nasty strains of ransomware, one of which may find its way onto your devices in the future, bolstered by their success and large paycheck.
The main goal of emphasising ransomware specifics is to protect your company with a security plan so that a malicious infection does not use your company to extort money!
Make sure you’re prepared to deal with these latest ransomware threats, as prevention is easier than cure.
It’s a good idea to understand how ransomware works and what precautions could be done to avoid such disastrous outcomes. We wish you the best for your company, since you made great growth with us. To avoid these attacks, be on the lookout.
You would have expanded your understanding of what ransomware is right now, all through your computer screen. We don’t want to freeze you. However, if you wish to avoid digital theft, you must first understand about it.