Living in the age of technology, you must have heard about ransomware attacks at least once. You’ve either heard about it at work or read about it in the papers. Perhaps you’re seeing a pop-up alert about a ransomware infection on your computer right now. Have you ever questioned what all the fuss is about?
If you want to read everything there is to know about ransomware; you’ve come to the right spot. We’ll go into the various types of ransomware, how to access it, where it comes from, who it attacks, and what you can do to defend yourself.
What is Ransomware?
Ransom malware, also known as ransomware, is a form of malware that blocks users from accessing their device or personal data and then requests a ransom payment to restore access. The first ransomware versions were created in the late 1980s, and payment was to be delivered by snail mail. Today, ransomware writers demand that payment be made using cryptocurrencies or a credit card.
Ransomware is initiated by hackers, who then demand a ransom (typically $300-500 USD/GBP/EUR, preferably in bitcoins), saying that if you pay, you can get the decryption key to retrieve your data.
The first ransomware attack was documented in 1989 when evolutionary biologist Joseph Popp corrupted floppy disks with the AIDS Trojan and spread them to colleagues. The malware did not start right away but instead waited until victims rebooted their computers 90 times. Finally, it encrypted all device files and demanded $189 from users to reverse the damage. Fortunately, specialists developed tools to uninstall the ransomware and decrypt contaminated data.
However, ransomware is not the same as viruses in your computer. Viruses infect your files or applications and multiply, but ransomware scrambles your files, rendering them unusable, and then requests payment. They can all be deleted by antivirus software, but if the files are locked, you’ll never be able to recover them.
Types of Ransomware
1. Encryptors or Crypto malware: The most popular form of ransomware is crypto malware or encryptors, which can do significant harm. In addition to extorting more than $50,000 from its victims, WannaCry endangered thousands of lives as it infiltrated hospitals around the world and prevented medical professionals from accessing patient information.
2. Lockers: Lockers infect the operating system by locking you out and making it difficult to open any applications or files.
3. Scareware: Scareware is bogus software (such as an antivirus or a cleaning tool) that appears to have discovered problems on your computer and requests money to repair them. Some versions lock your machine, while others bombard you with distracting warnings and pop-ups.
4. Doxware: If you do not pay, doxware (or leakware) threatens to post the compromised information publicly. We all keep confidential files on our computers, from contracts and personal records to embarrassing images, so, understandably, this will raise concern.
5. RaaS (Ransom as a Service): RaaS (Ransomware as a Service) malware is hosted anonymously by a programmer who manages all — spreading the ransomware, receiving fees, and handling decryptors — in exchange for a percentage of the ransom.
What Causes Ransomware Attacks?
Ransomware threats are on the increase and have become more dangerous in recent years. An assault on corporate networks encrypting confidential data will cost companies hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. According to Bitdefender’s new Threat Landscape Survey 2020, the cumulative amount of global ransomware cases rose by 485 percent year on year in 2020.
No site is immune to the impacts of ransomware. Regrettably, some people are more vulnerable to active threats than others. There are many reasons for this, including the hardware they use, the protection they have in place, the maturity of their identity governance and privilege protocols, and their overall cybersecurity protocols.
Ransomware can infiltrate your machine in a variety of ways. One of the most popular approaches today is malicious spam, also known as malspam, an unsolicited email used to deliver malware. Attachments, such as PDFs or Word documents, are a part of the booby-trap in the email. Moreover, it may also include links to malicious websites.
Malspam employs social engineering to trick users into opening attachments or clicking on links that seem to be legitimate—whether by a trusted organization or an acquaintance. Cybercriminals use social engineering in other forms of ransomware attacks, such as impersonating the FBI in order to scare users into paying them an amount of money to recover their files.
Malvertising is another common infection form that peaked in 2016. Malvertising, also known as spam ads, uses internet advertising to spread malware with little to no user contact. Users may be guided to illegal servers when surfing the Internet, even though they do not click on an ad. These servers collect information about victim machines and their locations and then choose the malware that is ideal for it. The malware is often ransomware.
Malvertising often employs an infected iframe, or invisible webpage feature, to carry out its operations. The iframe diverts to an exploit landing page, from which malicious code attacks the device through the abuse package. All of which occurs without the user’s awareness, which is why it is often referred to as a drive-by-download.
How to Protect Against Ransomware?
Security experts believe that the only way to guard against ransomware is to avoid it in the first place. Although there are strategies for ransomware protection, they are imperfect and often demand much more technical expertise than the typical computer user. So, here’s what we suggest people do to escape the consequences of ransomware attacks.
The first step to avoid ransomware is to engage in excellent cybersecurity software that provides real-time support from sophisticated malware attacks such as ransomware. You can also search for functionality that can both protect insecure applications from attacks (anti-exploit technology) and prevent ransomware from encrypting files (an anti-ransomware component).
Next, as tedious as it can be, you must make safe backups of your data regularly. Our advice is to use cloud storage with high-level encryption and multi-factor authentication. You can, however, buy USBs or an external hard drive to store new or upgraded files—make sure to manually separate the storage devices from your computer after backing up, or they may get compromised with ransomware as well.
Then, ensure that the systems and applications are up to date. The WannaCry ransomware epidemic exploited a flaw in Microsoft applications. Although the company released a fix for the same in March 2017, several people did not install it, leaving them vulnerable to attack. We understand how difficult it is to keep up with an ever-growing number of updates from a wide array of applications used in your everyday life. As a result, we suggest that you change your settings to allow automated upgrading.
Finally, keep up to date. Social engineering is one of the most common ways that machines get compromised with ransomware. Educate yourself (and your staff, if you own a business) on how to spot spam, questionable websites, and other scams. Above everything, remember to use common sense. If something seems suspicious, it most likely is.
Should you pay the ransom?
If you get compromised with ransomware, the first rule is never to pay the ransom. (This is now FBI-approved advice.) All that does is allow cybercriminals to mount new threats against you or anyone else. However, using free decryptors, you can be able to recover some encrypted data.
Not all ransomware families have had decryptors developed for them, which is often due to the ransomware’s use of complex and sophisticated encryption algorithms. Even if a decryptor is available, it is not always clear whether it is for the correct version of the malware. You don’t want to encrypt the files any further by using the incorrect decryption document. As a result, you should pay careful attention to the ransom message itself or seek the advice of a security/IT expert before proceeding.
What to do in this case?
Another option for dealing with a ransomware infection is downloading a software product known for remediation and running a scan to delete the vulnerability. You will not be able to retrieve your files, but you may rest assured that the virus will be removed. A complete device restore could be necessary to remove screen-locking ransomware. If that fails, try running a scan from a bootable CD or USB drive.
If you want to stop an encrypting ransomware infection in its tracks, you’ll need to be extra cautious. If your machine seems to be slowing down for no apparent reason, shut it down and reconnect it to the Internet. If the ransomware is already running when you restart your computer, it will not transmit or receive commands from the command and control system. If there is no key or way to extract payment, the malware will remain dormant. Then, download and install a protection product and do a complete search.