Over the years, ransomware has become more and more popular, and attacks are getting more regular and smarter.
In 2020, ransomware attacks went up by 485 percent. These attacks were used by hackers to target remote workers and organizations with weak security. Healthcare providers, government organizations, and schools are the frequent targets.
Average ransom payments have also gone up, and some companies or individuals reportedly paid millions of dollars to get their files back.
Ransomware is likely to remain a major threat in the coming years, with attackers coming up with new ways to avoid being caught and take advantage of security loopholes.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware that locks users out of their system or personal files and asks for a fee in order to give them access back. Some people might say, “My computer is locked because of a virus,” but ransomware is usually a different kind of software than a virus.
In the late 1980s, the first types of ransomware were made, and ransom money had to be sent by snail mail.
Today, people who make ransomware ask for payment in cryptocurrency or by credit card, and attackers go after all kinds of people, companies, and organizations. Ransomware-as-a-Service, or RaaS, is the term for when hackers sell ransomware to other cybercriminals.
Evolution of Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware is now a major global threat to organizations, with cybercriminals employing increasingly sophisticated tactics.
The traditional method of encrypting a victim’s files and demanding a ransom has become less successful due to improved backup technology and cooperation between law enforcement, tech vendors, and the user community.
In response, cybercriminals have developed double extortion tactics where they exfiltrate sensitive data and threaten to publicly release it if the victim refuses to pay the ransom.
Triple extortion attacks go a step further by notifying the victim’s customers and partners of the same threat and urging them to pressure the victim to pay.
A newer tactic, quadruple extortion attacks, involves using DDoS attacks to take down a victim’s website or service and then demanding a ransom to stop the attack.
Ransomware Attack: How It Works
For malware to work, it needs to get into a target system, encrypt the files there, and then ask the victim for a ransom.
Different types of ransomware have different details about how they work, but they all have the same three main steps.
Step 1: Infection and Distribution Vectors
Ransomware, like other viruses, can infiltrate an organization’s systems in many ways. Ransomware operators favour certain infection vectors.
Phishing emails are one of them. Malicious emails may contain links to malicious downloads or attachments with downloader capabilities. The email recipient downloads and runs ransomware if they fell for the phish.
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is another common ransomware infection vector. RDP allows an attacker to remotely access a computer in the corporate network using stolen or guessed employee login credentials. This allows the attacker to acquire and run malware on their machine.
Step 2: Encrypting Data
After gaining entry, ransomware can encrypt files. This is as simple as reading files, encrypting them with an attacker-controlled key, and replacing them.
For system stability, most ransomware versions carefully choose files to encrypt. Some versions delete backups and shadow copies to make recovery harder without the decryption key.
Step 3: Ransom
After file encryption, ransomware demands payment. Many ransomware variants change the display background to a ransom note or put text files in each encrypted directory with the note.
These notes usually request a certain amount of cryptocurrency in return for victim files. If the ransom is paid, the ransomware handler will provide either the symmetric encryption key or the private key that protects it.
This information can be entered into a cybercriminal-provided decryptor programme to reverse the encryption and resume file access.
How to Keep Ransomware at Bay
An effective plan can significantly reduce the damage of a ransomware attack. By following these best practices, an organization can reduce its risk of ransomware and lower its effects:
1# Training, education and cyber awareness
Phishing emails are often used to spread ransomware. It is very important to teach people how to spot and avoid ransomware attacks.
User education is often seen as one of the most important defenses an organization can use because many cyberattacks start with a targeted email that doesn’t even contain malware but instead has a socially-engineered message that pushes the user to click on a malicious link.
2# Continuous data backups
Ransomware is a nasty computer program that can lock up your important files and make them unusable. The only way to unlock them is to pay money to the person who made the program.
With protected, automated data backups, a company can recover from an attack with minimal data loss and without having to pay a ransom.
Keeping regular backups of your data is a very important habit to keep from losing it and to be able to get it back if the data gets corrupted or the disc hardware breaks.
Running backups can also help businesses get back on their feet after ransomware strikes.
Patching is a key part of protecting against ransomware attacks, since cybercriminals often look for the latest discovered exploits in the patches that are made available and then target systems that have not yet been fixed.
As a result, it is very important for businesses to make sure that all of their systems have the latest patches. This lowers the number of possible weaknesses in the business that an attacker could use.
4# User Authentication
One of the most popular ways for ransomware attackers to get into services like RDP is to use stolen user passwords.
When strong user security is used, it can be harder for an attacker to use a password they guess or steal.
5# Use a Reliable Anti-Ransomware Solution
Because malware needs to encrypt all of a user’s files, it leaves a unique mark on a computer when it runs.
Anti-ransomware programmes are made to recognise these “fingerprints.” A good anti-ransomware system usually has the following features:
- Wide variant spotting
- Fast spotting
- Automatic fixing up
- Restoration system that doesn’t use popular built-in tools (like “Shadow Copy,” which is targeted by some types of ransomware)
How to Stop a Ransomware Infection in Progress
Many successful ransomware attacks aren’t found until after the data has been encrypted and a ransom note has been shown on the screen of the computer that was attacked.
At this point, it’s likely that you can’t get the protected files back, but you should do the following right away:
1# Isolate the Computer
Some types of ransomware will try to spread to linked drives and other computers. Stop the software from spreading by making it impossible for it to reach other possible targets.
2# Leave the Computer on
Encrypting files can make a computer insecure, and turning it off can cause volatile memory to be lost. Keep the computer on to increase the chance that it can be fixed.
3# Make a Backup
Some types of ransomware can decrypt files even if you don’t pay the fee. Make a copy of protected files on removable media in case a way to decrypt them becomes available in the future or if an attempt to decrypt them fails and the files are damaged.
4# Check for Decryptors
See if a free decryptor is available from the No More Ransom Project. If so, run it on a copy of the protected data to see if it can decrypt the files.
5# Ask for Help
Computers sometimes keep copies of files as backups. If the malware didn’t remove these copies, a digital forensics expert might be able to get them back.
6# Wipe and Restore
Restore the computer from a backup or a fresh version of the operating system. This makes sure that all of the malware is gone from the computer.
By taking these proactive steps, you can reduce the risk of a ransomware attack and minimize the potential impact on your organization. Don’t wait until it’s too late; take action today to protect your data and your business.
Ransomware is a dangerous threat that can cause significant harm to individuals and organizations.
It is important to take steps to protect against ransomware attacks, including regularly backing up important data, using strong passwords, and keeping security software updated.
Additionally, organizations should have a plan in place for responding to a ransomware attack and be prepared to take quick action if an attack occurs.
By taking these measures, individuals and organizations can reduce the risk of falling victim to ransomware and minimize the damage caused by an attack.
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