What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is malware that holds victim’s data at ransom. The encryption of critical data means that users or organizations cannot access files, databases, or applications. To gain access, a ransom is required. Ransomware can quickly paralyze entire organizations and spreads to the target databases and file servers. Ransomware is a growing threat that generates billions in cybercriminals’ payments and causes significant damage to businesses and government organizations.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware employs asymmetric encryption. This cryptography uses a pair of keys to encrypt or decrypt files. The attacker generates the public-private pair for the victim. The private key is used to decrypt files on the attacker’s server. Although the attacker will only make the private key available to the victim after payment of the ransom, this is not always true, as we have seen with recent ransomware attacks. It is almost impossible to decrypt files being held hostage for ransom without the private key.
There are many types of ransomware. Ransomware and other malware are often distributed via email spam campaigns or targeted attacks. The malware requires an attack vector to establish its presence at an endpoint. Once malware is detected, it stays on the system until it is removed.
Ransomware then drops and executes a malicious program on the infected computer after a successful exploit. The ransomware then searches for and encrypts important files such as Microsoft Word documents, images, and databases. Ransomware can also be spread through network and system vulnerabilities, potentially affecting entire companies.
Ransomware prompts users to pay the ransom within 24 to 48 hours after files have been encrypted. Otherwise, the files will be permanently lost. The ransom is payable to retrieve personal files if a backup of data is not available or if the backups are encrypted.
Ransomware is spreading why?
Ransomware attacks are quickly evolving and so are their variants.
- It is easy to find malware kits that can create new malware samples upon demand
- New techniques such as encryption of the entire disk rather than selected files are available
The thieves of today don’t have to be technically savvy. Online ransomware marketplaces are popping up, offering malware strains to any cybercrook. They also generate extra income for malware authors who often request a cut of the ransom proceeds.
Is it so difficult to find ransomware criminals?
It is difficult to track criminals and follow money trails when anonymous cryptocurrency is used for payment. Cybercrime groups are increasingly using ransomware to make quick profits. The ease of accessing open-source code, drag-and-drop platforms for developing ransomware, and the ability to create new variants has helped speed up the creation of ransomware and allowed script novices to make their ransomware. Ransomware and other cutting-edge malware are often polymorphic in design. This allows cybercriminals easy bypassing traditional signature-based security that is based on file hash.
What is ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS)?
Ransomware-as-a-service is a cybercrime economic model that allows malware developers to earn money for their creations without the need to distribute their threats. Developers are paid a percentage of the profits while non-technical criminals purchase their products and launch the infected programs. Developers are not at risk, while customers do the majority of the work. Some instances of ransomware-as-a-service use subscriptions while others require registration to gain access to the ransomware. Learn more about ransomware-as-a-service.
How to protect yourself against ransomware
These tips will help you avoid ransomware attacks and minimize damage.
- Keep your data safe. You can avoid being locked out of critical files by making backup copies, either in the cloud or on an external hard disk. If you get ransomware, you can wipe out your computer or device and then reinstall the files from your backup. This will protect your data and prevent you from being tempted to pay ransom for malware authors. While backups can’t stop ransomware from happening, they can help to mitigate the risk.
- Protect your backups. Make certain that your backup data cannot be modified or deleted from the system where it resides. Ransomware will search for backups of data and encrypt them or delete them. Backup systems that don’t allow direct access should be avoided.
- Keep your security software up-to-date. Keep your devices and computers protected with security software. Also, keep your software current. You should update your software frequently and early since patches for flaws will often be included with every update.
- Use safe surfing. Pay attention to what you click. Do not respond to text messages or emails from strangers. Only download software from trusted sources. This is crucial as malware authors frequently use social engineering to convince you to install harmful files.
- Use only secure networks. Cybercriminals can spy on your internet use and many public Wi-Fi networks aren’t secure. Installing a VPN will give you a secure connection to all internet sites, no matter where they are located.
- Stay updated. Be aware of the most recent ransomware threats to make sure you are protected. If you are infected by ransomware and have not backed up your files, tech companies offer decryption tools to assist victims.
- Develop a security awareness program. Train all employees of your company to avoid phishing attacks and other forms of social engineering. Regular drills and tests are conducted to ensure that training is being followed.
9 steps to respond to ransomware attacks
It’s crucial to take action quickly if you suspect that you have been hit by ransomware. There are many steps you can take to minimize damage and get back to normal as quickly as possible.
- Remove infected devices: Ransomware that only affects one device can be considered a minor inconvenience. Ransomware that infects all devices within your company is a serious problem and could cause you to lose your business. It often comes down to your reaction time that the difference is made between these two types of malware. It is essential to disconnect the infected device as soon as possible from your network, share drives, and other devices. This will ensure safety. It is less likely that other devices will become infected if you do this sooner.
- Stop the spread of ransomware: Ransomware can move quickly, and the device infected with ransomware may not necessarily be Patient Zero. Therefore, if the infected device is isolated immediately, it won’t mean that ransomware will not exist anywhere else on your network. You will need to remove all suspicious behavior from your network devices, even those that are not connected to them. They can pose a threat no matter where they may be. It is a good idea to turn off wireless connectivity (WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.). It is also a good idea to turn off wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.) at this point.
- Assess the damage: Check for files that have been encrypted with unusual file extensions names. Also, look out for reports about file names or problems opening files. To stop further damage and data loss, you should isolate any devices that aren’t encrypted completely. You should compile a complete list of all affected systems. This includes network storage devices, cloud storage, and external hard drive storage. It is prudent to lock all shares at this point. If possible, all of them should be limited; if not then limit as many as possible. This will stop any encryption process from continuing and prevent additional shares from becoming infected during remediation. Before you do this, take a look at encrypted shares. This can give you valuable information. For example, if one device has more open files than the others, it could be your Patient Zero. And, you might not be able to find your Patient Zero.
- Locate patient zero: Once you have identified the source, tracking the infection is much easier. To do so, check for any alerts that may have come from your antivirus/antimalware, EDR, or any active monitoring platform. Ransomware is most commonly spread through malicious attachments and email links. This requires that the end-user takes action. It can also be helpful to ask people about their activities, such as opening suspicious emails, and what they have noticed. A look at the file properties can provide clues. The owner of the file is most likely the entry point. Keep in mind that more than one Patient Zero can exist!
- Identify the ransomware. Before you proceed, you need to identify which ransomware variant you are dealing with. You can visit No More Ransom which McAfee is part of. You can use the Crypto Sheriff tool to get your data out. Simply upload your encrypted file and it will scan for matches. The ransom note can be used to identify the ransomware variant. If the ransom note doesn’t specify the variant, you can use a search engine or the note to query the email address. After you have identified the ransomware, and done some research on its behavior, it is important to alert any unaffected employees immediately so that they can recognize the signs of infection.
- Report ransomware to authorities Once the ransomware has been removed, you will need to contact law enforcement for several reasons. Ransomware is a crime and should be reported to law enforcement. According to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (USFBI), “Law enforcement may have the ability to use legal authorities, tools, and resources that are not available to most organizations.” International law enforcement partnerships can be used to find stolen data and bring perpetrators to justice. The attack could also have compliance implications. According to the GDPR, if your business fails to notify the ICO within 72 hours of a breach involving EU citizens data, you could face heavy fines.
- Check your backup: Now, it’s time for the response. It is the fastest and most efficient way to do this is to restore your system from a backup. You should have a recent backup that is clean and uninfected. If so, the next step is to employ an antivirus/antimalware solution to ensure all infected systems and devices are wiped free of ransomware–otherwise, it will continue to lock your system and encrypt your files, potentially corrupting your backup. After all, malware has been removed, you can restore your system from the backup. Once you have confirmed that all data and apps are restored and running as normal, you can return to business as usual. Many organizations don’t realize how important it is to have backups in place until they need them. Modern ransomware is more resilient and sophisticated than ever, so some people who create backups soon discover that ransomware has encrypted or corrupted them, making them useless.
- Learn about your decryption options. Even if you don’t have a backup, you still have the possibility of getting your data back. No more Ransom has a growing collection of free decryption key options. If one is available for your ransomware variant (assuming that you have removed all malware from your system), you will be able to use the decryption keys to unlock your data. You can expect to be offline for hours or even days while you remediate, even if you can locate a decryptor.
- You can move on: If you don’t have any backups or cannot find a decryption code, the only way to save your money is to start over. Although it won’t take long or be cheap, rebuilding is the best thing you can do.