What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a form of malware that puts you and your device at risk. Malicious software known as Ransomware encrypts users’ data and threatens to block their access to it until they pay a ransom fee to the hacker. It is extortion software that locks your computer, then demands a ransom to unlock it. We can also call the Ransomware Attackers “Modern Day Robbers”. Unless the victim pays the ransom in time, attackers delete the data or the ransom increases. There has been an increase in the number of ransomware attacks in recent years, with major companies falling into their trap. These cybercriminals target consumers, businesses, and victims of all kinds. It is advised that victims do not pay the ransom, as that encourages a vicious cycle of paying the hackers. Additionally, if the system is not cleaned of the ransomware, half the victims may face repeated attacks and are forced to pay again.
Ransomware attacks started with the WannaCry outbreak in 2017 and since then they have only grown stronger. Well, in the beginning, attackers mostly targeted personal computers, but with time ransomware has more and more centered on commercial enterprises, as companies will obviously pay huge ransoms in order to get access to their crucial data. Ransomware attacks have escalated with the arrival of COVID-19 as companies had to start working remotely within a short span of time without setting up adequate cybersecurity networks. Cybercriminals took advantage of the situation to target organizations for ransom.
In most cases, ransomware infection follows a set pattern. It starts with the malware gaining access to the system. There are different types of ransomware, and either the operating system or individual files are encrypted. After encryption, a ransom demand is made. In such cases, high-quality ransomware protection software is your most effective defense against ransomware attacks. A ransomware attack has rapidly become the most prevalent form of malware. As a result of recent ransomware attacks, public services have been disrupted, hospitals have been unable to provide crucial services, and various organizations have been severely damaged. Let us understand in detail how ransomware software works and how you can prevent yourself from such malware attacks.
Types of Ransomware?
Ransomware poses different threats according to its variants. In general, there are two major types of ransomware- Locker ransomware and Crypto ransomware. Here is how they differ:
Basic computer functions are blocked by this type of malware. In some cases, you may not have access to the desktop whilst the mouse and keyboard are partially functional. So that you can continue to access the window containing the ransom demand, to make the payment. The computer is otherwise inoperable. Positively, lock-screen malware doesn’t usually target sensitive files; it mainly locks you out. Your data is therefore unlikely to be completely compromised.
In this ransomware, each file is encrypted individually. Crypto ransomware encrypts sensitive data, like documents, pictures, and videos, without interfering with basic computer functions. As a result, users cannot access their files while they can see them. There is often a countdown attached to ransom demands from crypto developers. If users fail to pay the ransom by the deadline, hackers threaten to delete all their files. Due to the number of users who don’t understand the importance of backups, crypto ransomware can have devastating effects. Thus, many victims pay the ransom simply to regain access to their files. The form of malware additionally makes a considerable distinction in relation to detecting and handling ransomware.
Based on the 2 fundamental categories, different sorts of ransomware exist. These include WannaCry, Locky, Bad Rabbit, and Jigsaw.
Working of Ransomware
Ransomware stays latent until the system is most vulnerable to an attack. The ransomware works in the following way, once it is inside the system-
- Infect— Firstly, ransomware secretly installs itself on the device, if the user clicks on a phishing email or malicious links.
- Execute an attack—Ransomware then detects the location of target files to execute the attack. In some cases, attackers can also delete or encrypt the files backed up by the user.
- Encrypt the data— Without encrypting the data, a ransomware attack is not possible. So the next step taken by an attacker includes encrypting target files and folders. Ransomware manipulates command and control servers to encrypt the data and hence block a user’s access to the data.
- Notifying the user—Here attackers provide files to the user for a decryption procedure. Following the instruction, a ransom note is displayed on the screen.
- Payment— Proceeding further, payment details are provided to the victim for paying the ransom.
- Decryption— Once the victim makes the payment, either the data is decrypted or the attacker was bluffing with the user, and the access stays blocked. There is no guarantee that the attacker will deliver the decryption key as promised.
How to prevent ransomware?
These are some best practices you can adopt to prevent and protect your systems against Ransomware attacks-
The basic step of enhancing your security is to install excellent Antivirus, firewall software, and Intrusion Prevention / Intrusion Detection Systems (IPS/IDS) on your device. They will detect and block all kinds of malicious activities on your system. Also, increase your browser security settings and disable vulnerable browser plugins to prevent yourself from using malicious sites.
Always be prepared with the updated operating system, up-to-date applications, and installed security patches. Regularly run a scan to detect the vulnerabilities in your devices and identify the unknown elements to remove them immediately.
Use hard drives to regularly backup your data and disconnect the device after backup is completed. This will eliminate the fear of your precious data being stolen.
Educate yourself and your team members to recognize and ignore phishing emails, and test if you all are able to identify such emails. Use spam protection software to automatically block malicious emails.
How to respond to a ransomware attack?
The user should take immediate steps after the attack has occurred. The more time you take to respond, the easier it will be for attackers to reach your sensitive files. Though you should always take the help of a professional for such critical issues, you can take a few basic steps by yourself also. Some steps are mentioned below-
- Identify the attacked region in your system and separate the system from the whole network, this will create a containment zone for malware-affected files to prevent damage to the surrounding environment.
- The internet connection or other network is essential to access files remotely, so disconnect all kinds of networks and switch off your system to disconnect from the attacker’s network.
- Restore your systems based on the valuable information contained in them.
- Remove the threat entirely from your system with the help of a cybersecurity expert. And try to find the vulnerabilities and root cause that led to such malware infection.
- Get your system’s safety upgraded for a secure future. Do not be a fool to become the victim of a cyberattack again.
Ransomware poses a huge danger to both personal computer users and large business firms. It is extremely crucial to look out for the potential dangers and to be organized for all kinds of eventualities. It is imperative to be aware of ransomware, to carefully operate your systems, and to have a robust security system.