Ransomware: A Complete Guide

10/11/2022

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One of the most well-known types of online malware is ransomware attacks. They are a piece of software that hides your PC or smartphone’s files behind a secure paywall. Yes, you must pay a ransom to recover your essential files. There is no guarantee that you will receive the decryption key needed to access your encrypted files, even if you send the money.

The topic of ransomware attacks will be covered in this article. 

What is Ransomware?

Malicious software (malware), known as ransomware, threatens to publish or prevent access to data or a computer system, typically by encrypting it, unless the victim pays the attacker a ransom. The ransom demand frequently includes a deadline. If the victim doesn’t make a timely payment, the data is permanently lost or the ransom price rises.

Attacks using ransomware are all too typical these days. It has affected both large firms in North America and Europe. Cybercriminals will target any customer or any company, and victims come from every sector of the economy.

The FBI and other government organizations, like the No More Ransom Project, advise against paying the ransom to prevent promoting the ransomware cycle. Furthermore, if the ransomware is not removed from the system, 50% of the victims who pay the ransom will likely experience further attacks.

History of Ransomware Attacks

The first known instance of ransomware dates back to 1989 when the “AIDS virus” was used to demand money from victims. A decryption key was also given back to the user when payment for that attack was sent by mail to Panama.

The term “cryptoviral extortion,” coined in 1996 by Moti Yung and Adam Young from Columbia University, was used to describe ransomware. This academic concept demonstrated contemporary cryptographic instruments’ development, power, and invention. The first cryptovirology attack was presented by Young and Yung at the IEEE Security and Privacy conference in 1996. The victim’s files were encrypted by their malware, which also carried the attacker’s public key. The malware then instructed the victim to provide asymmetric ciphertext to the attacker for analysis in exchange for the release of the decryption key.

Over time, attackers have become more inventive, requesting virtually impossible payments to track, which aids cybercriminals in maintaining their anonymity. For instance, the infamous mobile ransomware Fusob demands that victims pay using Apple iTunes gift cards rather than conventional money like dollars.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have grown in popularity, which has led to a dramatic increase in ransomware assaults. A form of the digital currency known as cryptocurrency uses encryption to protect and verify transactions while limiting the creation of new units. The use of Ethereum, Litecoin, and Ripple are a few additional, prominent cryptocurrencies that attackers encourage victims to use in addition to Bitcoin.

Organizations in almost every industry have been targeted by ransomware, with the attacks on Presbyterian Memorial Hospital being one of the most well-known incidents. This attack brought to light the dangers and possible harm of ransomware. Emergency rooms, pharmacies, and labs were all affected.

Attackers who use social engineering have improved their creativity over time. To have their files decrypted, new ransomware victims were instructed to have two additional users install the link, according to a report in The Guardian.

Types of Ransomware

WannaCry:  Using a potent Microsoft vulnerability, the ransomware worm WannaCry spread to over 250,000 devices before a kill switch was tripped to stop it.

CryptoLocker: CryptoLocker encrypts a user’s hard drive and any attached network drives and demands payment in cryptocurrency (Bitcoin). An email containing an attachment that purported to be FedEx and UPS tracking notices was used to disseminate Cryptolocker. For this, a decryption tool was released in 2014. But a few publications claim that CryptoLocker extorted upwards of $27 million. 

NotPetya: Regarded as one of the most harmful ransomware attacks, NotPetya borrowed strategies from its namesake, Petya, such as infecting and encrypting a Microsoft Windows-based system’s master boot record. NotPetya used the same WannaCry vulnerability to spread quickly and demanded payment in bitcoin to reverse the modifications. Since NotPetya cannot reverse the changes it makes to the master boot record and makes the target system unrecoverable, some have categorized it as a wiper.

Bad Rabbit: This ransomware, which is related to NotPetya and spreads via similar code and exploits, seems to target Russia and Ukraine, mostly affecting media companies in those countries. Bad Rabbit, unlike NotPetya, did provide decryption if the ransom was paid.Most instances suggest that it spread using a bogus Flash player update that might harm users through a drive-by assault.

REvil: A group of attackers with financial motives created REvil. Before data is encrypted, it is exfiltrated so that if the intended victims decide not to send the ransom, they can be blackmailed into paying. IT management software that was used to patch Windows and Mac infrastructure was compromised, which led to the attack. The Kaseya software that was used to introduce the REvil ransomware onto business systems was exploited by attackers.

Ryuk: Ryuk is a type of ransomware that is largely spread manually and through spear-phishing.Through a survey, targets are carefully selected. Then, all files housed on the infected system are encrypted once emails to selected victims are sent.

How Ransomware Works

Malware, known as ransomware, is used to extort money from its victims by blocking or preventing access to their systems’ data. The two most prevalent types of ransomware: encryptors and screen locks. As their name suggests, encryptors encrypt data on a system, rendering the information worthless without the decryption key. While claiming that the system is encrypted, screen lockers merely limit access to the system with a “lock” screen.

Victims are frequently instructed to purchase a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin on a lock screen (common to both encryptors and screen lockers) to pay the ransom. Customers can try to decrypt files after receiving the decryption key and paying the ransom. According to numerous sources, there is no certainty that the encryption will be broken after paying the ransom. The victims occasionally never get the keys. Some attacks keep the computer system infected with malware even after the ransom has been paid and the data has been released.

Since businesses are more likely to pay the ransom to regain access to vital systems and continue normal operations than are individuals, encrypting ransomware has shifted its focus from primarily targeting personal computers to increasingly targeting business users.

Malicious emails are frequently the first step in an enterprise ransomware infestation or virus. A user who is not paying attention opens a malicious attachment or clicks on a compromised URL.

A ransomware agent is installed and starts encrypting important files on the victim’s PC and any attached file shares. After encrypting the data, the ransomware displays a message on the infected device. The message provides information on what happened and how to reimburse the assailants. The ransomware assures the victims that they will receive a code to unlock their data if they pay.

Who is At Risk?

Any device with an internet connection has a chance of becoming the next ransomware victim.A susceptible device exposes the local network to risk since ransomware examines both local devices and any network-connected storage. If the local network belongs to a company, the ransomware may encrypt crucial system data and documents, disrupting operations and decreasing productivity.

The most recent software security updates should be installed on any device that has an internet connection, and ransomware-detecting anti-malware software should also be installed. The risk is substantially larger for outdated, unmaintained operating systems like Windows XP.

The Business Impact from Ransomware

A company that contracts ransomware may suffer productivity losses and data loss costing thousands of dollars. Organizations that do not pay the ransom quickly enough risk further consequences like brand harm and legal action from attackers with access to the victim’s data who will threaten to reveal data and expose the data breach.

Since ransomware reduces productivity, containment is the first approach. After containment, the company can pay the ransom or restore data from backups. Even while law enforcement gets engaged in investigations, finding the people who created the ransomware takes time, which only slows down recovery. The vulnerability is found through root-cause analysis, but any recovery delays reduce output and income for the company.

Why is Ransomware Spreading? 

Because more people work from home, threat actors use phishing more frequently. Phishing is the primary entrance point for ransomware infestation. Employees with both high and low privileges receive the phishing email. Email is a cheap and convenient way for ransomware to propagate, which makes it perfect for attackers.

Documents are often sent over email, thus users have no concerns about examining a file that is attached to an email. Before the payload is delivered, ransomware is downloaded to the local device when the malicious macro is launched. Because it is easy to spread over email, ransomware is a prevalent malware threat.

Who are the malicious actors?

Attacks with a high level of sophistication may use ransomware created by independent writers. Variants leverage an existing ransomware version’s codebase and tweak a small number of the routines to change the payload and mode of attack. The creators of ransomware have complete control over their virus’s behavior and encryption cipher.

Not all authors are also attackers. Some ransomware creators offer their malware for sale or rent. Ransomware is available for rent as malware-as-a-service (MaaS), where consumers log in and start their own campaign. As a result, attackers are not always knowledgeable in malware and coding. They are also the ones who pay ransomware authors to rent their malware.

Why You Must Avoid Paying Ransomware

After ransomware has finished encrypting files, it displays a screen informing the user that the files have been encrypted and requesting payment. Usually, the ransom is increased or the victim is given a set period of time to pay. Attackers frequently threaten to reveal businesses and publicize the fact that they were ransomware victims.

The biggest danger of paying is not getting the cipher keys to unlock the data. Despite being short of money, the organization still lacks the decryption keys. Most specialists advise against paying the ransom to deter attackers from continuing to profit financially, yet many firms are left with no other option. Cryptocurrency payments are required by ransomware developers, thus the money transmission can’t be stopped.

How Do I Get Rid of Ransomware?

Nobody wants to see a ransom letter on their computer since it indicates that a ransomware infestation was effective. At this stage, a company must decide whether to pay the ransom fee or take other action in response to an active ransomware attack.

How to Stop an Active Ransomware Infection

Many effective ransomware attacks go undetected for long before the data is encrypted and a ransom warning appears on the computer’s screen. Although it’s likely too late to save the encrypted files at this point, the following steps must be followed immediately:

Quarantine the Machine:The machine should be quarantined since some ransomware variations will try to infect other computers and associated drives. You can control its spread by denying the infection access to other potential recipients.

Keep the Computer Running: File encryption can cause a computer to become unsteady, and turning off a computer can cause the loss of volatile memory. Keep the computer running to increase the likelihood of recovery.

Create a Backup: Some ransomware variants allow files to be decrypted without paying the demanded ransom. If a fix is found down the road or the files are damaged during an unsuccessful decryption attempt, make a backup of any encrypted files on a portable drive.

Check for Decryptors: Get in touch with the No More Ransom Project to see whether a free decryptor is available. If so, try restoring the files on a copy of the encrypted data using it.

Ask for Assistance: Backup copies of files stored on computers are occasionally kept. If the infection has not removed these copies, a digital forensics expert might be able to recover them.

Wipe and restore: Use a fresh operating system installation or backup to restore the computer. By doing this, the infection is eradicated entirely from the device.

Advice on How to Avoid Ransomware

Being a careful and conscientious computer user is the greatest method to prevent coming into contact with ransomware—or any form of malware. You need to be cautious about the downloads and links you click on since malware distributors are becoming more and more clever.

Other advice:

  • Ensure that your operating system, programs, and apps are up to date.
  • Ensure that anti-virus and anti-malware programs are configured to update automatically and perform scheduled checks.
  • Data should be frequently backed up, and the backups should be verified.
  • Keep your backups safe. Verify that they are not plugged into the networks and computers they are backing up.
  • In the event that your company or organization falls victim to a ransomware assault, have a continuity strategy.

8 Best Antivirus Software

Keep in mind that antivirus software is just one component of cybersecurity. The more precautions you take to lock down your internet security, the safer you’ll be as cybercriminals get savvier.We’re here to assist you in choosing the antivirus program that best suits your requirements.

 Conclusion

In all its forms and variations, ransomware poses a major threat to individual users and organizations. This makes it even more important to keep an eye on the threat it poses and to be ready for anything. Educating oneself about ransomware is essential, using technology with utmost caution, and installing the best security software.