What is Ransomware cyber-attack?

What is Ransomware cyber-attack?

A kind of malware called ransom malware, sometimes known as ransomware, blocks users from accessing their personal or system files and demands a ransom payment in exchange for access. Although some individuals might believe "a virus locked my computer," ransomware is more commonly referred to as a type of malware than a virus. Hardware devices may keep running effectively and securely with the help of firmware upgrades. These upgrades often entail modifying a software in some way to address known bugs or apply patches for certain weaknesses.

The first ransomware versions were created in the late 1980s, and they demanded payment through postal mail. Evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Popp, a Harvard-trained scientist, is credited for creating ransomware. He distributed diskettes containing ransomware to delegates of an international AIDS conference hosted by the World Health Organization in Stockholm, Sweden, to start the AIDS Trojan. Their PCs' file folders were hidden by the code, which also asked that $189 be remitted to Panama to unlock their machines.

Even if the risk of ransomware has decreased somewhat since then, its core objective—to extort or defraud money from unwary users—remains the same. It progressed from being contained on a diskette to moving through emails, music and video downloads, and even photographs, all while being sent over the internet. It has served as a tool in recent years for crypto-miners, who require processing power to produce bitcoins. Ransomware has been designed to make a user's computer generate cryptocurrency since mining digital assets uses a lot of expensive power. This is done for the advantage of a crypto-miner located hundreds or thousands of kilometers away.

Today, ransomware authors demand payment by bitcoin or credit card, and attackers target different types of people, companies, and organizations. Ransomware-as-a-Service, or RaaS, is a practice where certain ransomware producers provide their services to other online criminals. Hence, precaution is better than cure.

by Dr. Shekhar Pawar

How is the ransomware assault conducted?

A ransomware assault is carried out in what specific ways by threat actors? How does ransomware function? No matter how ransomware is defined, once it gets into your computer, it infects it covertly. The malware then attacks files, gains access to them, and modifies their credentials without the user being aware of it. As a result, the person in charge of the infection basically holds the computer system hostage.

In simple words, they must first obtain access to a computer or network of your organization. They can use the virus required to encrypt or lock up your device and data if they have access, which they do. Your computer can become infected with ransomware in a number of ways.

Few of those are as below.

  • Malspam:

    Some threat actors utilize spam to get access, sending emails with malicious attachments to as many recipients as they can, then watching to see who opens the attachment and "takes the bait," as it were. Unsolicited email used to spread malware is referred to as malicious spam, or malspam. The email might have malicious attachments like Word or PDF files. Additionally, it could connect to websites that are harmful.

  • Malvertising:

    Malvertising is a common technique of infection. The use of internet advertising to spread malware with little to no user engagement is known as malvertising, or malicious advertising. Users can be sent to malicious servers when browsing the internet, even on sites that are genuine, without ever clicking on an advertisement. These servers compile information about target machines and their locations before choosing the virus that would do the job the best. This virus is frequently ransomware. Malvertising frequently carries out its operations through an infected iframe, or unseen website element. The iframe links to an exploit landing page, and from there, malicious malware uses an exploit kit to attack the machine. The fact that all of this occurs without the user's awareness gives rise to the term "drive-by download."

  • Spear phishing:

    Through spear phishing, a ransomware assault may be more precisely targeted. An illustration of spear phishing would be sending emails to workers at a certain organization with the false claim that the CEO is requesting that you complete a crucial employee survey or that the HR department wants you to download and review a new policy. Such strategies aimed at top-level decision-makers in a business, such the CEO or senior executives, are referred to as "whaling."

  • Social engineering:

    Social engineering may and frequently does appear in spear phishing, spam, and advertising. Threat actors may utilize social engineering to look genuine, such as by pretending to be from a reputable organization or a friend, in order to fool users into opening files or clicking on links. Other ransomware assaults by cybercriminals employ social engineering techniques, such as impersonating the FBI to intimidate victims into paying a ransom to access their files. Another instance of social engineering would be if a threat actor obtained details about your hobbies, frequent destinations, employment, etc., from your public social media accounts and used part of that information to send you a message that appeared to be from someone you know.

File Encryption and Ransom Demand

Victim will notice a notification requesting a ransom payment to recover what the threat actor took when they obtain access and the ransomware software encrypts victim's files or data so victim can't access them (usually activated by the victim following a link or opening an attachment). Frequently, the attacker will demand cryptocurrencies as payment.

Ransomware Variants

Sadly, it is simple and inexpensive for cybercriminals to launch these assaults. Some of the most recent ransomware assaults have been carried out using malware that is inexpensive and simple to find, and the software solutions are affordable and easily accessible on the dark web.

Here are some of the most well-known ransomware examples out of the several varieties of ransomware:

  • Scareware:

    Malware known as "scareware" employs social engineering to frighten, shock, or antagonize a target. The person is then persuaded to buy software they don't require. Scareware frequently claims to have exposed the user to a false infection or even another form of malware. The simplest method to avoid scareware is to doubt any assertions that your computer has been infected, unless they are from a reputable, dependable virus protection provider.

  • Screen Locking:

    Your computer screen is locked with a screen locker, making it appear to be inaccessible. You could see a message in place of your usual screen that requests payment before granting you access to your screen once more. It can be a phony law enforcement agency asking you to transmit money to someone via an internet payment provider. Authorities warn against paying the ransom if you have been infected by a screen locker. After deleting your system, you can restore your computer using a recent backup.

  • Encrypting Ransomware:

    Advanced encryption methods are used to encrypt the data on your device when ransomware is present. You receive a notice outlining the costs involved and the procedures to follow in order to recover access to your data. Similar to screen locks, you might need to use a recent backup to restore functionality to your computer while resisting the attacker's demands.

  • Mac Ransomware:

    The first ransomware for Mac OSes was released in 2016 by Mac virus developers, who were not ones to be left out of the ransomware game. The ransomware, known as KeRanger, attacked the Transmission program, which, when used, copied harmful files that operated silently in the background for three days before detonating and encrypting information. Fortunately, immediately after the ransomware was identified, Apple's built-in anti-malware tool XProtect published an update that would prevent it from infecting user systems. However, Mac ransomware is now a real threat.

    Findzip and MacRansom, both found in 2017, came after KeRanger. In 2020, there was something that appeared to be ransomware (ThiefQuest, aka EvilQuest), but it turned out to be what is referred to as a "wiper." Although it encrypted files, there was never a mechanism for users to unlock them or get in touch with the gang regarding payments. It purported to be ransomware as a cover for the reality that it was stealing all of your data.

  • Mobile Ransomware:

    Ransomware wasn't often used on mobile devices until the heyday of the infamous CryptoLocker and other families in 2014. Messages stating that the device has been locked because of some sort of criminal action are frequently displayed by mobile ransomware. The phone will be unlocked upon payment of a charge, according to the notification. Mobile ransomware is frequently spread through malicious applications, and in order to regain access to your device, you must restart your phone in safe mode and uninstall the offending program.

  • Some Emerging Threats:

    Threats from ransomware are continuously changing and getting worse. Hackers are coming up with more and more ways to break into people's and businesses' systems as new security measures are developed. Threats like Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) are increasing in frequency. With RaaS, anyone can buy or rent a whole ransomware package to use on anyone they like. They occasionally share earnings with the RaaS provider. Governmental organizations will continue to be the target of assaults even while the US Department of Justice (DOJ) takes action against perpetrators.

    It is especially enticing to pay the ransom and restore the affected government when a hacker is able to shut down even a minor branch of it, whether local or national.

Who do developers of ransomware want to harm?

Initial victims of ransomware when it first appeared (and later reappeared) were individual systems (aka regular people). However, when they started targeting companies with ransomware, fraudsters started to grasp its full potential. Because ransomware was so effective at disrupting organizations' operations and causing data and financial losses, its creators focused the majority of their attacks on them.

By the end of 2016, ransomware accounted for 12.3% of all enterprise detections worldwide whereas just 1.8% of consumer detections were ransomware. A ransomware assault affected 35% of small and medium-sized firms by 2017. By the time the global pandemic hits in 2020, the threat hasn't diminished. Ransomware gangs continue to target hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and they've developed new extortion techniques like "double extortion," which allows attackers to demand more money by threatening to leak private information than by actually decrypting the computers they've encrypted. Using the Ransomware-as-a-Service, or RaaS, model, some ransomware organizations provide their services to other parties.

Geographically, ransomware assaults continue to target western markets; the top three targets are, in order, the UK, the US, and Canada. Ransomware writers, like other threat actors, follow the money, therefore they go for regions with both widespread PC usage and relative affluence. Expect to see a surge in ransomware (and other types of malware) in emerging regions in Asia and South America as their economies grow.

What to do in the event of a ransomware attack?

After a ransomware attack, there are actions you may do to limit the harm to your business operations. Authorities warn against paying the ransom no matter what the circumstance. As soon as other cybercriminals learn about successful assaults, they become more motivated to launch new attempts.

  • Look out for scareware:

    On your computer, scareware is frequently simple to detect. When you access the internet, it can appear and take the place of the tabs you would normally see. Sometimes, regardless of where on the screen you click or press, tabs open up immediately when you do.

    When a machine is infected but not connected to the internet, scareware also appears. It can seem as a notice informing you that you need to clear up an infection on your device. It could potentially present itself as a suggestion to set up antivirus software.

    By following the instructions given by a customer service agent from the maker of your computer, scareware can occasionally be removed. Due to the prevalence of various ransomware varieties, some businesses have developed training.

  • Employ an Expert:

    An IT expert might be able to recognize, find, and remove the ransomware. Although there is no assurance they will be able to remove malware from your machine, certain ransomware has been employed previously. Decryption keys have thus been made public and are being shared among IT professionals.

    Additionally, consulting an expert has disadvantages. Hiring a professional frequently comes with a hefty price tag. Additionally, there is no way to tell if the expert will be successful in removing the ransomware from your computer unless you agree to pay an upfront price.

  • Take Away Ransomware:

    A pound of cure is said to be worth an ounce of prevention. When it comes to ransomware, this is undoubtedly true. There is no assurance that an attacker would release your device from encryption if you pay the ransom demanded.

    Because of this, it's essential to be ready before being affected by ransomware. Few essential actions are:

    • Isolate the compromised devices:

      Likely, only a few devices will have the ransomware on them. It is important to get these off the network so they cannot infect other connected devices.

    • Determine the kind of attack:

      Depending on the sort of ransomware you have been exposed to, you will need to take different actions. Note every single detail concerning the attack and its signs and symptoms.

    • Utilize antivirus software or get a pro to take care of it for you:

      This may uncover and get rid of additional risks as well as assist against subsequent attacks.

    • Obtain your encrypted files back:

      The type of attack and the available decryption tools will determine if you can recover them and how.

    • Always Remember

      Removing the ransomware prevents you from being forced to comply with the attacker's demands, which can save you from making a bad, emotional choice. The files being held hostage won't be decrypted, though.

    Especially if you've been locked out, you risk losing the decrypted files or all of the data on your device. On the other side, you could not experience any negative impacts from scareware and many screen locks. You can restart the computer in safe mode in order to remove some screen locks, for instance, and then use antivirus software to do so. Your computer could be back to normal after a reboot.

    The first tip to follow if you come across a ransomware outbreak is to never pay the ransom. (The FBI has since approved of this suggestion.) All that does is embolden hackers to carry out further attacks on you or another person.

    You might be able to recover some encrypted data by employing free decryptors, which is one viable solution for getting rid of ransomware. To be clear, not every ransomware family has a decryptor designed for it, often because the ransomware uses complex and powerful encryption methods. Even if a decryptor exists, it's not always evident if it's for the correct virus version. By selecting the incorrect decryption script, you don't want to continue encrypt your data. As a result, before doing anything, you should carefully read the ransom note itself or even consult a security or IT expert.

    Downloading a security program recognized for cleanup and conducting a scan to get rid of the problem are two other approaches to handle a ransomware attack. Even if you might not get your data back, you can be confident that the virus will be removed. A full system recovery may be necessary for screenlocking ransomware. Try performing a scan from a bootable CD or USB device if that doesn't work.

    You must exercise extra caution if you wish to try to stop an encrypting ransomware outbreak in progress. Close your computer and unplug it from the Internet if you notice a sudden slowdown in performance. If the virus is still active when you restart your computer, it won't be able to send or receive commands from the command and control server. Therefore, the infection can remain dormant in the absence of a key or a means of payment. Run a complete scan after downloading and installing a security program.

How can I guard against ransomware?

The majority of security professionals concur that preventing ransomware in the first place is the greatest method of defense.

While there are ways to deal with a ransomware attack, they are at best ill-suited approaches and frequently need far more technical expertise than the typical computer user. So, this is what we advise people to do to prevent the effects of ransomware assaults.

The first step in preventing ransomware is to invest in fantastic cybersecurity—a real-time protection tool built to combat sophisticated computer attacks like ransomware. Additionally, keep an eye out for capabilities that will both protect weak applications against attacks (anti-exploit technology) and prevent ransomware from encrypting files and enslaving users (anti-ransomware component). For instance, users of the premium edition of Malwarebytes for Windows were shielded from all of the significant ransomware assaults of 2017.

Next, despite how painful it may be, you must regularly generate safe backups of your data. We advise using cloud storage that has multiple-factor authentication and high-level encryption. To preserve fresh or updated files, you may buy USBs or an external hard drive; just make sure to physically unplug them from your computer after backing up your data to prevent ransomware infection on those devices as well.

After that, make sure your software and systems are up to date. An error in Microsoft software was exploited by the WannaCry malware. Even though the business had already provided a patch to close the security weakness in March 2017, many people neglected to apply it, leaving them vulnerable to assault. We understand that it's challenging to keep up with the updates for the ever-growing number of software and programs you use on a daily basis. We advise altering your settings to enable automatic updating because of this.

Lastly, keep yourself informed. Social engineering is one of the most typical methods that computers are infected with ransomware. Learn how to spot malspam, shady websites, and other frauds. If you manage a business, also educate your staff. Additionally, use common sense wherever possible. It's likely questionable if it seems suspicious.

Education and technology work together to identify ransomware effectively. Here are some of the best techniques for spotting and avoiding ransomware attacks:

  • Make sure staff members are informed about ransomware:

    When given the proper training, your staff can do a lot to stop ransomware assaults. Tell them how to avoid exposing their gadgets to assaults and what they look like. Teach staff how to recognize ransomware warning indicators, including as emails that appear to be coming from reliable companies, shady external links, and dubious file attachments.

  • Build honeypots:

    A honeypot is a decoy made up of fictitious file repositories created to resemble desirable targets for attackers. You can recognize and thwart an assault when a ransomware hacker targets your honeypot.

  • Keep an eye on your endpoints and network:

    With careful observation, you may record incoming and outgoing data, search files for signs of an attack (such unsuccessful alterations), create a baseline for normal user behavior, and then look into anything that appears unusual.

  • Put antivirus and anti-ransomware software to use:

    One of the most effective and simple tools in the fight against malware is antivirus protection. Antivirus protection stops ransomware from ever getting to your devices or network, preventing criminals from demanding money from you or interfering with your business activities. A apparently benign email is frequently the entry point for ransomware, but email security can stop it before it spreads. Threats can be detected in the data contained in email attachments. With this kind of filtering, you may create rules to prevent emails from the problematic sender from ever reaching your inbox as well as block emails from the offending sender.

  • Check the email content:

    You may set up your email settings to automatically stop harmful emails from reaching the inboxes of your employees and to filter items with potentially dangerous extensions, such executable files.

  • Revisit Assets Frequently:

    A good, cost-free strategy to protect your gadgets is to update them. Numerous upgrades feature antivirus defenses against fresh categories of online dangers. The code that safeguards your device is added to an update as the device's maker learns how to resist various kinds of ransomware. Check for updates often by checking your device's settings or keeping an eye out for update alerts to take use of this option. Additionally, you may plan automatic updates, which are frequently performed when you are not using your smartphone.

  • Software Whitelist:

    Software whitelisting is a powerful defense against assaults. Before utilizing any program, the user regularly inspects their gadget and gives their approval. Firewalls and other security tools can warn you about software that can be infected with ransomware and request your consent before connecting to the internet. If you think there may have been a security compromise, you can also decide to prohibit all incoming programs using the whitelisting procedure. Before using any of your programs again, you can concentrate on determining the cause of the issue. When a firewall is in place, ransomware is simple to detect.

  • Protect Your Data:

    Backups are a crucial component of a proactive strategy even though they cannot stop assaults. You can get a baseline snapshot of each device on your network by regularly backing up your data. You can delete the system and restore it using the backup in the case of a ransomware attack.

  • Utilize a Complete Security Solution:

    The best ransomware protection is a complete program created to protect a variety of devices from assault. Web filtering falls under this category since it creates a protective barrier between your network and potentially harmful websites, links, viruses, and other material. Sandboxing, which includes isolating an application's behavior, might also be used as part of a broader solution. The application's behavior is examined in the sandbox, and the information acquired might show faults, inefficiencies, malware, and other questionable code. Other components of the device or network are secured as a result of the program being in the sandbox.

    Even SecureClaw’s BDSLCCI Certification Journey will help your organizations in many ways!

What impact does ransomware have on your company?

Businesses of all sizes are the favorite targets of hackers that use ransomware. For routine tasks, the administration of crucial information, and communication, many businesses rely on computers. Any outage has an effect on the business's finances. This is how online fraudsters con business owners and employees into paying money to regain access to their computers. They regularly succeeded in extorting substantial sums of money or seriously disrupting commercial operations.

SamSam was employed in 2018 to target both the Port of San Diego and the Colorado Department of Transportation. The ransomware stopped all of their services. SamSam is believed to have been used by two Iranian hackers in 2018 to assault more than 200 businesses and organizations across North America. Hospitals, public buildings, and towns were among their casualties. An estimated $30 million was lost as a result of the attacks.

Different ransomware strains, such as GandCrab, SamSam, WannaCry, and NotPetya, are severely harming enterprises. In reality, ransomware attacks against companies increased by 88% in the second half of 2018 as cybercriminals shifted their attention away from operations aimed at consumers. Cybercriminals target hospitals, governmental organizations, and commercial institutions because they know that doing big business often results in great profits. An average data breach will cost $3.86 million in total, including cleanup, fines, and ransomware payments.

Recently, GandCrab has been linked to the bulk of ransomware outbreaks. Since it was first discovered in January 2018, GandCrab has undergone a number of revisions as the threat actors make their ransomware more difficult to counter and bolster its encryption. Individual ransoms for GandCrab have been set between $600 and $700,000. It is reported that GandCrab has already earned somewhere over $300 million in paid ransoms.

The SamSam ransomware damaged the City of Atlanta in another major assault that occurred back in March 2018 by destroying key crucial city functions, including tax collection and the police record keeping system. Atlanta spent a total of $2.6 million on repairs as a result of the SamSam attack.

Now is an excellent moment to start thinking strategically about safeguarding your company against ransomware, especially in light of the recent wave of ransomware attacks and the enormous cost they entail.

Cyber Insurance's Caps for Ransomware Payments

The prevalence of ransomware attacks has led to a surge in cybersecurity insurance, often known as cyber insurance, which pays for losses an organization can incur as a result of a cyberattack. Cyber insurance often compensates for damages brought on by data loss, data theft, data extortion, and data destruction. The ransomware extortion demands that sometimes seem like a reasonable method to stop calamity are frequently covered by cyber insurance. Cyber insurance isn't nearly the panacea many firms would like it to be since hackers are well aware that organizations with insurance are more likely to pay out a settlement for ransomware payments.

Although ransomware settlement costs are often covered by cyber insurance, the coverage is constrained. It frequently includes the replacement of broken computers as well as potential fines related to the loss of sensitive information. However, cyber insurance does not operate as a security blanket to protect potential victims from ransomware, nor does it fully cover the effects of a strike.

For instance, operating losses, the value of lost confidential or competitive information, or expenses related to reputational harm to the company are not covered by cyber insurance. a lot of times. The insurance payout may not even come close to covering these costs. On a more encouraging note, insurance can encourage the adoption of best practices like endpoint detection and response (EDR) and security platforms when such actions are necessary as conditions for the issuing of an insurance policy.

Be Ahead of the Ransomware

The effects of ransomware stretch well beyond simply having to pay a settlement, and the problem is evolving quickly. The speed at which criminals create exploits for recently discovered vulnerabilities is increasing. The purpose of ransomware has changed from being just to encrypt a victim's records to frequently including threatening to make stolen records public or to delete data.

Ransomware necessitates a comprehensive response from the public and corporate sectors since it transcends political, geographic, and technological boundaries. Organizations may contribute by combining security products with cybersecurity mesh platforms, maintaining good cyber hygiene, and engaging in active threat intelligence consumption.

Every business domain has unique mission critical assets and different cybersecurity needs.

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