Along with the world’s growing reliance on technology is the ever increasing threat of cybercrime. New systems and innovations allow fraudsters to develop more sophisticated ways to bypass databases and networks. One of the most notorious methods used today is ransomware.
As a malware scheme, ransomware has caused massive damage to both individuals and organizations. Awareness of cybercrime trends and tactics is crucial to securing your organization and client’s data. To guarantee everyone’s safety, having a fundamental understanding of ransomware is key to prevention.
The Impact and Prevalence of Ransomware
Ransomware has become more prevalent year over year. In the first half of 2021, around 304.7 million ransomware attacks were reported worldwide, or roughly 167,000 attacks per day. Attacks span across all industries, with manufacturing suffering the most in 2021, according to IBM.
The impact of ransomware can be massive. Victims can, unfortunately, expect hefty ransoms to regain access to their own data. Hackers can ask for hundreds, even millions in ransom, with the largest payout reaching $40 million, paid by CNA Financial, an insurance company.
Getting back on one’s feet after a ransomware attack isn’t any easier. For instance, Scripps Health, a California based-nonprofit operator of hospitals and outpatient facilities, said that it cost them almost $113 million to recover from a tragic ransomware attack.
What this shows is that ransomware attacks are not to be taken lightly. Let’s take a closer look at what it is and how it works.
What is Ransomware? How Does it Work?
You can think of ransomware attacks as digital hostage situations. Hackers use ransomware to hold a victim’s data hostage—through encryption or locking the device—until they’re paid.
Hackers deploy ransomware, hoping victims become so inconvenienced by the attack that they just pay. However, cybersecurity authorities strongly recommend against this since it will encourage more attacks. Instead, contacting cybersecurity experts is a better option.
Ransomware can enter a victim’s device through various access points meant to be covert. According to IBM, 41% of ransomware attacks exploited phishing to gain initial access to sensitive data. Other initial access points include remote desktop protocols (RDP) vulnerabilities, drive-by downloads, and infected external drives.
Attacks are swift and silent. On average, they can last around 42 minutes and 52 seconds, while it takes businesses approximately 20 hours to respond to the breach. Anyone can fall for it, from private users to established organizations.
The Stages of a Ransomware Attack
While infection methods can vary, a ransomware attack typically follows these stages.
Once the ransomware makes it through the initial access point, it is downloaded and installed on the unsuspecting victim’s device. It does this without alerting the victim.
Once installed, the ransomware scours the device for specific file types. The malware also gathers more credentials to access even more protected data. It goes through local users, groups, task lists, domain admins, and controllers, to name a few.
Sometimes, the hacker can initiate a remote access protocol or intermediary remote access tool (RAT), which allows them to have interactive access to the device.
Once the ransomware has found the files, it exchanges keys with the Command-and-Control server to shuffle them and lock the victim’s access.
4. User Notification
At this point, the average victim would still be unaware of the security of their data. Once the ransomware has successfully encrypted and locked files, it sends the victim a ransom note. It includes the amount of ransom to pay the hacker to recover access to their files and instructions on the payment methods.
Once the ransomware has successfully encrypted the files, it terminates and erases itself from the device. The files will still be inaccessible to the victim and can be recovered using the hacker’s decryption key.
Should the victim decide to pay the ransom, they must click the link provided in the hacker’s ransom note. The victim will be sent to a web page typically secured using TOR services to avoid detection by network traffic monitoring software. Payments are usually made through cryptocurrencies to keep the transaction untraceable by authorities.
After the victim has paid the ransom, the hacker should ideally send over the decryption key. Unfortunately, there’s often no guarantee that the hacker will uphold their end of the agreement.
The Main Types of Ransomware
Not all ransomware types behave the same way. There are several types that fraudsters can use to gain access to sensitive data. Here are a few examples to be aware of.
Hackers use scareware to exploit people’s fears and get what they want. These often come in the form of a pop-up, pretending to warn victims of an urgent problem with their device.
It will typically say that immediate action is required, further pressuring victims to act irrationally. The pop-up usually provides a link to a web page that victims can visit to fix the problem. Once clicked, malware will secretly be installed on the victim’s device.
While other forms of ransomware target specific files, this type locks the victim out of their entire system. Both files and applications on the device become inaccessible without paying the ransom fee to unlock it. Sometimes, the lock screen will show a timer ticking down to pressure victims to pay.
Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)
Professional hackers can offer the ransomware they created up for sale. Fraudsters who pay for it are known as “affiliates” and can use it to hack into unsuspecting devices. A portion of the ransom may go to the professional hacker they bought it from. Examples of RaaS include Locky, Stampado, Encryptor, and Goliath.
Encryption is when data or information are scrambled so they are incomprehensible to humans and can only be read using decryption software. Typically, encryption protects user identities online, but as ransomware, it can be impairing.
Once crypto-ransomware makes its way onto a device, it scours folders, encrypts targeted files, and notifies the victim of the attack. The files can be recovered through a decryption key, typically owned by the hacker.
How to Stay Safe from Ransomware
Ransomware and other forms of attacks on your system can be a great inconvenience. The best method to safeguard data from ransomware attacks is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Below are safety reminders to help you stay safe from ransomware.
1. Be aware of basic phishing schemes
Phishing was the top ransomware infection vector used by hackers in 2021 and the bulk of cyberattacks during the pandemic. This emphasizes the need to focus on protecting against phishing scams.
Hackers will attempt to mimic established brands to gain your trust and provide them with your personal information. According to IBM, the most common brands hackers copy are Microsoft, Apple, and Google.
Companies usually have their own business email; thus, generic “@gmail.com” or “@yahoo.com” addresses could be a scam. Check the company’s official email and contact numbers to verify whether it’s a trusted message or not.
2. Junk suspicious messages and links
If you receive a link from a sender you don’t recognize, it’s best to ignore it until you verify its legitimacy.
Never click on an email attachment that asks you to run macros to view them. Additionally, ensure that the website you’re downloading a file from has “HTTPS” in its URL, not simply “HTTP.” This means the connection is secure and trustworthy.
3. Utilize multi-factor authentication
Most ransomware will try to gain illicit admin access to your computer. Configure any admin changes to require multi-factor authentication (MFA) approval first so that you will not only block ransomware from installing but also be notified that someone is attempting to make a change. You may choose to receive updates through email or SMS.
4. Keep operating systems up to date
Vulnerability exploitation ranked second as the top ransomware infection vector as per IBM. Tech companies regularly release updates for their software and operating systems to strengthen security, which can help against ransomware such as WannaCry, which exploits software vulnerabilities.
5. Back up data often
When you have a backup of your data stored in another device, you still have access to them even if the primary computer gets compromised. So, make it a routine to create copies of your data regularly in case of emergencies. Your backups must not be connected to your primary computer to prevent ransomware or other cyberattacks from spreading to your backups.
It Pays to Protect Against Ransomware
The advancement of technology can bring both blessings and curses. New systems revitalize how daily transactions are done, but they may also lead to the development of malicious schemes. With the points above in mind, it’s clear that ransomware is a threat that all growing organizations must not ignore.
With the proper methods and tools, managers can ensure the safety of company data and protect the personal information of their clients.
If you’re looking to strengthen your cybersecurity, partnering with experts like Q5id is your best choice. Acquiring our proven cybersecurity services will strengthen your security infrastructure and keep cybercriminals at bay.
Get in touch with us today to learn more and discover how our services can help you!
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