What do we get when we combine the words software and ransom? We get the term ‘ransomware.’ This is, in fact, one of those looming security woes that make it on the global risk radar every year. How is that, you may ask? How have I not heard of ransomware? Well, do not fret, all can be explained and by the end of the article you will be much more informed about this critical topic.
You may or may not have read about ransomware in the news, or more commonly you may have read an article describing a ‘data breach’ or ‘hack’ of some kind. This is most probably a ransomware attack since these are almost always high-profile and make it on the mainstream media. Malicious software attacks like ransomware, as well as scams known in the cybersecurity industry as phishing, are the biggest threat to the world economy today. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. In fact, phishing and ransomware (sometimes a combination of the two) are a higher priority global risk than natural disasters. This has been confirmed by security researchers, IT leaders, and insurance leaders. Ransomware, specifically, is among the most dangerous types of malicious software out there.
Another key element to remember is that cyber-attacks at the level of ransomware, a.k.a hacking incidents, require the absolute toughest defenses imaginable to even begin talking about stopping them. The broader implications of high-profile ransomware cyber-attacks are jaw-dropping and have caused innumerable damage in the trillions, in just the past couple of years. This is why we are going to have a look at the types of ransomware out there, and several cybersecurity recommendations on what can be done to stop them.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware in recent years has been the go-to tool for high-profile cybercriminals. It is a malicious software code that is created or written by specialist cybercriminals, packaged into a nasty little program. Ransom software belongs to a larger umbrella called malicious software, or malware for short. How does it work? Firstly, ransomware will infect a target computer, network, or system. Secondly, it will take the specifically targeted data on that system (or all of the data) and literally take it hostage. The data will then be encrypted (locked) with a key only known to the cybercriminals. Secondly, instructions will be left by the cybercriminals to the victim on how to unlock the data that has been taken, hostage. Thirdly, the unlock code (decryption key) will be granted to the victim upon payment of a certain amount of ransom (which can vary from thousands to several million.) Even still, these criminal operations can go one step further through blackmail. This is when files are copied over during the encryption process, and cybercriminals threaten to release sensitive data to the public. The ransomware business is highly professional today, with even fancy ransomware cybercriminal groups offering their services to in return for anonymous payments. Forums on the hidden part of the internet are where most of these gangs and their services are stationed. It is known that most ransomware gangs who conduct digital extortion operate from nation-states like China and Russia. A lot of attacks are politically motivated, not just purely for financial gain.
What Are The Different Types of Ransomware Attacks?
There are different types of ransomware as well as different ransomware attack techniques that are worth listing below;
- RaaS (Ransomware as a Service)
Starting with the first one which is crypto-ransomware; this is one of the most widely used and devastating types of malicious attack. It’s simple and very brutal. It encrypts files that are taken hostage and requires a decryption key to unlock. On the other hand, locker-type ransomware is different from crypto, because it locks the user out of the system completely, therefore ‘locking’ it. Sometimes a countdown clock is also used in locker-type attacks. Thirdly, leakware or doxware are blackmail attacks that threaten a release of sensitive data (oftentimes these are simpler scams.) Scareware is perhaps the least worrying of the bunch, as it orchestrates fake or urgent claims and asks for payment. Most types of scareware do not lock the computer or lock data but rely on social engineering to trick the victim by ‘scaring’ them into paying. Finally, we need to look at Ransomware-as-a-Service. What is this exactly? Well, this term refers to a ‘service’ that includes the full ransomware attack package which is conducted by a specialist cybercriminal in return for payment, or a commission of the final ‘loot’.
Real Examples of Ransomware Incidents
There are dozens of real-world scenarios where ransomware incidents were recorded. 2017 particularly, was a bad year for cyber-attacks. Let’s look at some of the worst examples that occurred in 2017 alone;
- Bad Rabbit
WannaCry, perhaps the most famous ransomware attack that occurred in 2017 is still infecting computers and networks to this day not only in the UK but all over the world. It resulted in victims paying a ransom that did not result in them getting their data back. Secondly, the Bad Rabbit attack crashed computers in countries like; Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, and Russia. Just like WannaCry, this attack forced users to pay hundreds of dollars in Bitcoin worth to regain their computer data. Bad Rabbit leveraged a fake Adobe Flash Player installer to trick victims into installing it. Finally, the Petya ransomware crippled organizations in Europe and the U.S. It crashed systems (causing downtime) and spread through large organizations such as Mondelez, WPP, and the biggest of all which is globally known shipping giant Maersk. Finally, Petya exploited the ‘EternalBlue’ vulnerability in the Microsoft Windows operating system and had software engineers scrambling to quickly release a fix -leaving those without the fix in danger.
How to Defend Against Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware is one of those rare paradigms that can transcend the digital divide, and have real-world consequences, as we have seen above. Protecting against ransomware is an almost impossible task, given the sophistication of it and the specialists behind it, but there are some solutions that will, if anything, slow down cybercriminals or dissuade them from targeting you or your organization. These are;
- Keeping all software, systems, and networks updates to their respective latest security patches
- Organizations must have incident response plans ready at all times
- Implementing an IAM (Identity and Access Management) program
- Keep all data backups strictly offline, and off the internet
- Focus on email cybersecurity to prevent phishing ransomware
- Avoid clicking on malicious links, attachments, and ads
- Run a firewall with DPI (Deep Packet Inspection)
- Network segmentation should be implemented to prevent lateral movement of ransomware, trapping the malware in a given segment
- Password security is critical in all applications
- Conducting due diligence with any third-party contractors
- Use a premium Virtual Private Network (VPN) at all times
- Educate yourself on all the above and/or educate your staff
Original article written by: iCrowd Newswire
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