What is Ransomware and How Does it Work?
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Ransomware is one of the fastest growing types of malware impacting organizations today.
The success of one ransomware attack is enough to destroy an organization. Therefore, it’s important to understand how dangerous it is and what tactics your business can practice preventing this type of occurrence.
Keep reading to find out what ransomware is, how it works, who the targets are, and how to protect against it.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software, also known as malware, that seeks to hijack a user’s files or systems, blocking their access indefinitely. Utilizing methods of encryption, it holds those files hostage and demands a ransom from the victim to release hold over their property. In the past few decades alone, “ransomware has significantly made headway… infecting multiple routes.”
How Ransomware Works
A new ransomware attack always starts with the initial point of compromise, which could be a publicly accessible computer system or even an end user’s computer. In the case of an end user’s computer, all it takes is giving sensitive information to a phishing email, and that opens the doors to a plethora of malware and viruses.
If the first attempt of compromise is not a phishing email, the offender is typically an unpatched operating system, disclosing an IT service to the Internet. This service could range from a web server to a VPN. Once they’ve succeeded in gaining unauthorized access to your system, the culprit will scan the victim’s computer and network to find other vulnerable systems, proceeding to spread through the network. In this way, ransomware spreads laterally, taking control over more and more computers.
Next, the hackers will send over a message to the victim stating they no longer have access to any data on their network or hard drive and must make a payment to recover stolen files (a ransom note delivery). The ransom generally requires its payment in “cryptocurrency, for example, bitcoin and monero”.
In many instances, paying the ransom does not guarantee the recovery of any compromised data. Victims of modern ransomware attacks should approach this stage with caution, as their choices can make a huge difference moving forward to recovery.
Types of Ransomware Attacks
There are multiple examples of cyberattacks that have occurred in the past decade, but here are the top three that have shifted the technological universe. These have caused companies and their employees’ extreme damage in the process.
Ryuk, 2019 and 2020
Ryuk, like most ransomware infections, is almost always spread through phishing emails. This is a term used for emails that contain dangerous links or attachments, and tend to impersonate a close contact of the user in an attempt to gain trust.
Ryuk attacks are infamous for demanding the highest ransom amount, well exceeding the average at about USD 300,000. According to the FBI, “Ryuk’s attacks have already caused more than USD 60 million in damage worldwide.” This type of extortion brought about the halt of major newspaper operations across the country at one point!
Launching in 2017, WannaCry goes down in history as being one of the most tragic ransomware attacks with the highest loss volume. It was estimated at USD 4 billion in losses and the ransom demanded to free each machine was about USD 300.
This attack emerged through phishing emails. As a nation, greater than 200,000 people and companies were impacted, such as FedEx, Nissan, and Telefonica.
WannaCry mainly targets Windows and will jump on any vulnerabilities in the system. This is something that is prevalent in businesses today, so it’s important to equip your team with knowledge and a backup plan.
CryptoLocker ransomware launched in 2013 and was a big milestone for its time. Experts in cybersecurity were appalled by this because of its non-standard encryption key, which was challenging to defend against.
Just like Ryuk and WannaCry, Cryptolocker spread mainly through email containing malware and infected over 200,000 Windows-based computers. The monetary damage “is believed to have caused losses of more than USD 3 million”.
Why Are Ransomware Attacks Emerging?
There are multiple reasons why we are witnessing an increasing number of ransomware attacks all around us.
Rise of Cryptocurrencies
A huge contributor to this problem is the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies. Using this as the ransom payment keeps the attackers more anonymous, giving them unlimited power.
According to data from CoinDesk, the value of Bitcoin rose more than 800% between April 2020 and April 2021. “Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are less regulated and harder to trace than other forms of payment, making them more attractive to hackers”.
Due to more companies agreeing to pay the ransom to retrieve their data, cyber criminals notice this activity and deploy higher volume ransomware attacks wherever they can.
Another reason why we are seeing more of these attacks emerge recently is because of evolving technology. For example, some viruses are harder to pinpoint because they don’t contain any files. These viruses are dangerous and harmful, as they tend to linger and can easily infect backup systems.
Growing Online Users
A third reason for the increase in attacks is the expanding internet consumption by online users. Worldwide Internet usage increased significantly because of the pandemic. Not only has the number of online consumers spiked, but also the number of employees, since remote work has become the new normal. File sharing, remote desktop apps, mobile device access, and social media open up consistently new avenues for ransomware threats to take hold.
Who Are the Targets of Ransomware Attacks?
Healthcare organizations, industrial companies, and the education sector are some of the main targets of ransomware attacks. The consequences that organizations face due to a successful ransomware attack are detrimental, especially if it sources from insufficient security measures.
Healthcare is a great example of an organization that is more likely to be targeted since its data is essential to patient survival. Because of this, they are under greater pressure to pay a ransom demand. Due to the unethical nature of undermining extremely sensitive data, some ransomware gangs vow to not target healthcare providers.
In a report covered by ZDNet, security researchers discovered throughout 2021, that almost every industry experienced ransomware attacks. With that said, the industrial goods and services sector endured the highest number of crypto-malware disturbances, accounting for almost a third of ransomware attacks that whole year.
This demonstrates how much industrial organizations depend on the constant availability of their physical processes. When these processes are disrupted for long periods, this potentially compromises national security, on top of posing a huge threat to public safety.
Finally, schools have recently become a more sought target for ransomware attacks. This is due to the faculty, staff, and students from many organizations that lack training on spotting digital threats.
They may not be able to identify phishing emails in their work inbox or have the knowledge to spot malicious URLs, leading to dangerous clicking. Unfortunately, investment in good security measures is only possible if public funding comes through. This causes educational organizations to not prioritize ransomware training.
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How to Protect Against Ransomware
We can’t ensure that your organization will be 100% protected from these attacks, but you can increase your odds of staying safe by following these three best practices.
Form a Security Team
While installing antivirus software and training your team on anti-malware best practices, the top thing your company can do in a time of crisis is to implement an effective security team to provide you with 24×7 threat detection services.
Your cybersecurity partner will work with you very closely to learn how to respond to various security events that may occur. It is essential for you and your partner to always be on the same page when it comes to event response procedures.
Utilize Data Backup Procedures
Having dependable data backup procedures are an important part of your protection plan going forward to fend off ransomware. Without these, you won’t have the ability to restore sensitive data. In the case of a breach, your team would be forced to rebuild all data from scratch.
When deciding where to store your backups, the cloud is the best option. All systems can be recovered online from the provider’s location, and it ensures a fast recovery time. As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we offer Microsoft Azure Cloud Migration, which will take data from a physical server and relocate it into a cloud platform. Here, it will remain protected from any ransomware criminals.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication and Strong Passwords
Google research shows that multi-factor authentication can block up to 100% of automated bots, 99% of bulk phishing attacks, and 76% of targeted attacks. If you are unfamiliar with MFA, it can be a recovery phone number to add to your account to receive a unique one-time sign-in code. Downloading the Google Authenticator app is an easy way to verify your identity.
When creating a password, it is crucial to follow certain guidelines to ensure its strength. It must be a minimum of 12 characters in length, a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, a combination of letters and numbers, and at least one special character.
What to Do If Your Device Is Infected by Ransomware
If your device is infected by ransomware, under no circumstances should you ever pay the ransom! The FBI does not encourage doing this, as there is no guarantee you will get any of your infected data back.
Can Ransomware be Removed?
The process of removing ransomware can range from possible to impossible depending on the kind of attack you are dealing with. To put this into perspective, malicious software programs installed into your network by scareware attacks can be uninstalled in no time.
The more common types, like encryption ransomware, are far more threatening because they encrypt your confidential files. Even if you succeed in removing the malware, you will now have to decrypt your data to gain access back, and that is no simple feat.
You would normally need to purchase a decryption key to free the data in this type of event. This step is what we are hoping to avoid, as it isn’t smart to give these criminals any form of currency.
What Is the Damage of Ransomware?
The potential damage of ransomware attacks on an organization’s network can be detrimental in many ways. This damage includes but is not limited to:
- Temporary or permanent loss of sensitive data
- Malware infection of devices and the network
- Financial losses incurred to restore systems and files
- Interference to a company’s regular operations
- Possible reputational damage
Solutions Against Ransomware
Security Risk Assessments
Receive comprehensive audits and analytics through our security assessments and scans that identify the security and compliance gaps within your organization. Our engineers will assess your security vulnerabilities and deliver a comprehensive security risk assessment.
Our risk assessments consider your company size, industry, compliance requirements, and more. Our team of experts will analyze every aspect of your business and recommend changes that can help your company protect itself against potential cyber threats.
Network Security Monitoring
Prevent attacks before they occur with 24x7x365 network security monitoring services. Receive real-time cybersecurity monitoring that provides visibility into the cyber threats attempting to enter your organization.
This service complements your internal IT resources by providing in-depth network security monitoring that helps you meet compliance requirements under industry regulations. Our team of experts handles the management of logs and provides actionable recommendations upon sending alerts or reports.
Penetration Testing Services
Penetration testing services assess the efficacy of your security controls and examine the strength of your overall cybersecurity posture. Our security professionals simulate real-world attacks using the latest adversary techniques to illuminate unknown weaknesses and identify gaps in your security coverage.
We simulate high-impact security breaches to empower your team with the knowledge and tools you need to proactively protect your organization against advanced cyber threats.