Ransomware – What Is It?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files and demands a ransom to decrypt them. Ransomware attacks are becoming more common, and they can be devastating for victims who don’t have backups of their files. This blog post will explain the ransomware meaning, how it works, and how you can protect yourself from being a victim.

How Does it Work?

What is a ransomware attack? Ransomware works by infecting a computer and then encrypting the user’s files with a strong encryption algorithm. Once the files are encrypted, the attacker will demand a ransom be paid to receive the decryption key. The attacker creates the decryption key which is the only way to unlock or recover the victim’s files and private data. 

The victim usually has a limited time to pay the ransom, typically within 24 to 48 hours, and if they don’t pay in time, the price will go up or their files will be lost forever. In some cases, the attacker may threaten to delete the encryption key or publicly release the victim’s confidential data if the ransom is not paid.

Examples of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have become more common in recent years as the tools needed to carry out the attack have become more readily available. Here are three examples of famous ransom attacks that have made a large impact on online security. 

One of the most well-known ransomware attacks was the WannaCry attack which took place in May of 2017. This attack infected over 200,000 computers in 150 countries and caused billions of dollars in damage. 

Another example of a well-known ransom attack is CryptoLocker. This was one of the first ransomware attacks that required the payment of Bitcoin to decrypt and encrypted a user’s hard drive along with other network drives. The attack was spread through a phishing email that claimed to be from FedEx and UPS. A decryption key was later created in 2014. The attack was reported to bring in $27 million. 

Lastly, the Kronos ransomware attacks. On December 11, 2021, Kronos which is a workforce management company that services over 40 million people in over 100 countries faced a ransomware attack that led to thousands of people losing their hard-earned money due to employee payroll data disappearing. It is still affecting people to this day due to the fact that victims have never received reimbursement for the Kronos ransomware attacks

Who is Vulnerable?

Ransomware can infect any device that is connected to the internet. This includes devices like your computer, phone, or even a smart TV, causing vulnerability to any and everyone. Ransomware will scan all devices connected to the internet, including networks. If the ransomware finds a vulnerable device on a network, it can infect that device and the whole network too. This could include important files and documents on business networks that could stop services or productivity. 

Why is Ransomware Escalating?

You would be shocked at just how easy it is to conduct a malware attack in today’s age. With more people working from home, ransomware attackers have a better chance of scoring their next attack. With the use of Phishing, these attackers can send you fake emails to try to get your personal information such as the famous crypto attack CryptoLocker. Phishing emails are usually sent with attachments. When you open the attachment, the virus downloads ransomware to your computer and then starts spreading it, making it an easy and common way for malware attacks. 

Another major reason malware attacks are escalating is because of the easy availability of ransomware marketplaces that provide malware kits that are used to create new malware samples on demand. Today’s attackers don’t even need to be tech-savvy, they can just look up what’s offered by malware authors and use their malware strains to gain profit. These authors will also often get a cut of the ransom fees. 

How to Defend Yourself 

The best defense against ransomware is a good offense—in other words, prevention is key. Keep your software up-to-date, install an anti-malware solution like Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection, and never click on links or open attachments from unknown senders. These simple steps will go a long way towards keeping ransomware off your system in the first place and protect you from blackmail or sextortion cases.

Key Ransomware Data Points 

Reports from frontline incident response experts have shown common trends when investigating ransomware. Source: Trellix.com 

  • Median dwell time for ransomware attacks in days are as follows
    • Ransomware Maximum days: 547 
    • Ransomware Median days: 72
    • All threats Median days: 56 
  • Reports have also shown popular days of the week for ransomware deployment and when the execution of the attack begins 
    • Monday: Ransomware is most likely executed from midnight to noon
    • Thursday: Ransomware is more likely executed from midnight to noon 
    • Friday: Ransomware is more likely executed from midnight to noon  

You can reduce the amount of time a ransomware attacker spends in your network by focusing on their behavior. Ransomware attackers will take an average of 72 days to figure out what they need to do to get what they want. But if you focus on their behavior, you can make them leave in only 24 hours or less.

How to Respond to Ransomware 

If you have been infected with ransomware, your first step should be to contact a professional who can help you remove the malware and restore your files. It’s also important to have a backup of your data in case of an infection. That way, you can restore your files from backups if you do get infected. It is also a great idea to stop the spread of malware. You can do this by isolating the infected device by disconnecting it from your network such as wi-fi, Bluetooth, etc. Finally, make sure you have security software installed on your computer to protect against future attacks.

Why You Shouldn’t Pay the Ransom 

Should you find yourself the victim of a ransomware attack, our advice is not to pay the ransom. For one thing, there’s no guarantee that paying the ransom will result in your files being decrypted—all you’re doing is giving the attackers your hard-earned money with no guarantee of getting anything in return. Additionally, by paying the ransom, you’re funding future attacks and making yourself a more attractive target for future attacks.

Here are other important reasons you should never pay the ransom

  • Attackers might not go away after you pay. Once these criminals know that you have the funds, they can come back asking for more demands. 
  • The decryption key that you paid for might not even completely work. It is common for files to be corrupted and destroyed to the point you can’t get that information back. They most likely will be gone forever. 
  • You are adding to the crime of ransomware. If you give in to the demands of your attacker you are helping them succeed in their criminal activity. This can push them to carry out their crimes.

How to Prevent the Attack 

Ransomware protection is important and there are many things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a ransomware attack. Some of the most important things you can do are listed below: 

– Use strong security software including an antivirus program and a firewall. Security software can detect and block many types of malware, including ransomware. 

– Keep your operating system and other software up-to-date with the latest security patches so that attackers can’t take advantage of known vulnerabilities. 

– Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in emails unless you’re sure they’re safe. Many types of malware, including ransomware, are spread via email phishing scams. 

– Only download software from trusted sources such as official websites or app stores. Don’t download software from third-party websites as these may be hosting malicious versions of legitimate programs. 

How to Remove Ransomware 

To remove ransomware, we recommend implementing the steps we gave to prevent the attack as well as contacting your local and federal law enforcement to report the crime and get help from experts to remove the malware from your device. 

Report ransomware to the following:

  • Your local federal law enforcement field office
  • The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3
  • National Cyber Investigative Joint Task (NCIJTF) CyWatch
    • 24/7 support 1-855-292-3937
    • NCIJTF has the primary responsibility to coordinate, integrate, and share information to support cyber threat investigations, supply and support intelligence analysis for community decision-makers, and provide value to other ongoing efforts in the fight against the cyber threat to the nation.
    • NCIJTF also synchronizes joint efforts that focus on identifying, pursuing, and defeating the actual terrorists, spies, and criminals who seek to exploit our nation’s systems.
  • Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA
    • CISA provides secure means for constituents and partners to report incidents, phishing attempts, malware, and vulnerabilities.

Ransomware is a serious problem that can cause a lot of financial hardship for its victims. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of ransomware, and there are also ways to remove it if you do become infected. Hopefully, this blog post has given you some useful information on how to deal with this increasingly common malware threat.

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