Ransomware

Ransomware: A Comprehensive Guide

There are various kinds of online threats that users have to deal with depending on their approach and usage. These include phishing attempts, Distributed Denial of Service, and much more. However, a Ransomware attack is still the biggest threat users face.

Ransomware attacks aren’t limited to a region or a user, as any organization or individual could become a victim of this problem.

In fact, organizations are usually at a higher risk of facing ransomware variants for compromising data. We are going to talk about ransomware, its types, and how you should deal with them for better online protection. For now, let us begin with understanding what ransomware is, and how it works for users.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a program or virus that encrypts a user’s file. Most of the attackers demand money or “ransom” in exchange to return control over these systems. This compromises important information and leaves most users no other alternative but to make the payment.

However, there is a lot more to learn about these Ransomware attacks before you can think about dealing with them.

These Ransomware attacks also guide the users on how to make the payments, and the steps to follow if they wish to get full control of their devices back. The average price of Ransomware attacks ranges between a few thousand dollars to other monetary payments.

Similarly, demanding cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is also becoming quite popular in the US. Statistics reveal that nearly 2,500 reports of ransomware came to the FBI in 2020, which was nearly 19% higher than in 2019.

History of Ransomware

The 1989 AIDS Trojan or the PS Cyborg was the first reported case of a Ransomware attack. The Trojan hid files, directories because evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Pop sent 20,000 infected diskettes labeled as study material.

Once the Ransomware attack was successful, they would have to pay $198 per device through the PC Cyborg Corp, through his post office number. Sadly, the Ransomware attacks never stopped, as there are various ransomware variants that attackers started utilizing for attacking companies and individuals.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what this ransomware is and their histories, let us talk about their work.

How Does Ransomware Work?

The way ransomware works differs for the different ransomware varieties that these attackers utilize. While several anti ransomware programs help users with them, there is always a program that can outsmart these countermeasures. The most common type of ransomware those attackers use are phishing spam.

Phishing scams are attachment content that comes with an email, covered file, or any other kind of normal digital material that users could easily open. They can attack the owner's system as soon as you download them. They may even encrypt your files and take complete control of them.

This would render your system useless for you if the Ransomware attack is severe. Most of these ransomware programs have in-built social engineering protocols, which makes these digital infections more dangerous. These include tools that trick the users into allowing administrative control and compromising power over the whole system.

Types of Ransomware

Users need to understand the complete types of ransomware if they wish to understand these attacking programs. Therefore, we are going to talk about some of the most common kinds of ransomware that you can come across, and how you can deal with them.

Crypto Encryption or Ransomware

These are the most commonly known kind of ransomware that users come across. These kinds of Trojan programs attack the system disguised as an authentic program or file. They may take control of the system as soon as the user downloads them.

These programs take full control of the devices, encrypt files, and stop users from using their devices, rendering the system useless. Most anti-ransomware programs cannot even do anything against the Ransomware attack at this point.

Lockers

Lockers are programs that remove access to the system from the user’s end. Most of these programs lock the users out of all the files and system access. These ransomware infections may also show a message demanding ransom from the user.

In some extreme cases, these messages may also have a countdown for a system auto-delete option to show the system urgency.

Most users attempt using anti-ransomware programs to fight these programs off. Unfortunately, they aren’t of much use if the attacks are completed successfully.

Scareware

Scareware is programs that manipulate users into believing that their systems are infected with a virus and need to take action to cure it. Most of these programs offer to remove the virus in exchange for monetary payments. Some of these scareware programs lock the system, while others keep prompting the warning messages on the screen in pop-up forms. Most of these pop ups will flood the screen until the users can no longer use the system as the pop-ups block the view completely.

Doxware

Ransomware infections like doxware threaten to share or distribute personal information if the user does not pay the ransom amount. This is the most common type of Ransomware attack. Users often find these kinds of programs disguised as police or other law enforcement agencies to collect personal information.

This may include information like your address, social security number, or others. Most users provide this information if they aren’t aware of the doxware virus The hackers can then blackmail the users to pay ransom to return this personal information.

RaaS (Ransom as a Service)

RaaS refers to a professional hacker to take care of the complete ransomware deal. This includes lining out instructions, following them, restoring information, and getting a small cut out of the loot in exchange for this complete process.

Maze Ransomware

Maze ransomware file is one of the most deceptive ransomware varieties that you will come across. A Ransomware attack with this kind of program includes a 32-bit file with a Trojan program. These files usually have an .exe extension, which makes them difficult to detect and counter. Most of these ransomware programs pose as authentic software and compromise system information.

Who Can Get Attacked?

Ransomware attacks have different intentions behind them depending on what ransom attackers wish to achieve through the infection. Most of these people need money in exchange for the user’s information and system control. This means that individuals, groups, and organizations can all have these Ransomware attacks if they aren’t careful enough.

However, it is important to note that these Ransomware attacks aren’t random and attackers do this by planning them carefully. These attackers choose targets that are easier to target and have lesser security protocols compared to others. It is because the lesser the security, the easier it is to breach their systems and compromise data and information.

Organizational Ransomware attacks

However, the main focus of these attackers is on organizations. For instance, a Ransomware attacker may target a university portal or site because they have data from thousands of students on average. What’s more is that these universities have lower security protocols, making it easier for attackers to bypass their systems, and encrypt information. Similarly, some organizations are an easier target because they will likely pay the ransom amount to regain control over the information and system again. For instance, medical facilities such as hospitals and clinics have little to no security systems against Ransomware attacks.

These attackers can easily use these ransomware infections and impact the organization for money. However, there are various ransomware variants that these professionals may use for this task.

Moreover, other organizations such as law firms may also pay the ransom amount to make a quiet compromise without damaging their reputation in the industry. Additionally, leakware attacks are the most common ones that these organizations face with attackers.

Are These Organizations only At Risk?

Unfortunately, Ransomware attacks aren’t a concern for organizations alone. In fact, individuals and groups can easily face a Ransomware attack, but compromising personal information is the most common case that these groups face. This is a growing problem and statistics reveal that it resulted in nearly $5 billion loss for the ransom amount, and the amount spent in recovering data.

Thus, it is pretty safe to say that anyone can use these Ransomware attacks. The users need to know their options for their protection and prevention against data breaches and compromise.

We are now going to discuss some things you should know about defending against ransomware, and why it matters. However, we need to discuss why and how Ransomware attacks occur, to begin with.

Ransomware attacks: Vulnerabilities Attackers Look for

There are a few common things that a Ransomware attack may have in common. We are going to discuss these things for your guidance so that you can strengthen these areas for better protection.

Valuable Data

The first element a Ransomware attack includes is choosing an organization that has valuable information and data. This matters because the organization will probably not make the payment if they have nothing to protect. Therefore, attackers ensure that the targeted organization contains personal or sensitive information.

This makes it easier for attackers to target these organizations and demand hefty amounts. Statistics indicate that these payments range up to $170,000 on average. While these amounts sound extensive, the organization needs to pay them to secure their data and reputation for the public.

Following are the most common sectors that these Ransomware attacks may target. · Professional Services · Health Care · Education Moreover, healthcare departments and organizations are becoming highly vulnerable to these attacks in recent years. It is because of their increase in the pandemic situation. Therefore, attackers know that they will make the payments to retrieve the info and system control back. Interestingly, some Ransomware attackers claim never to attack the healthcare sector because of personal motives. However, facts reveal that these sectors are the most vulnerable ones to a Ransomware attack.

Poor Security Infrastructure

Unfortunately, small or medium-sized businesses are at the highest risk of Ransomware attacks. There are various reasons for this. For example, most of these attackers know that medium businesses have poor cybersecurity systems. This makes it easier for them to access the system and take control of the information.

Secondly, medium to small businesses do not have the means to recover their systems from attacks. Most of these businesses get ready to pay the ransom amount for their system.

Moreover, larger organizations have extreme security and countermeasures, which make them a more difficult target. Additionally, the demand for RaaS is also increasing.

These ransomware groups now allow almost anyone to conduct these Ransomware attacks on companies in exchange for smaller cuts from the loot. This had also made it much easier for the attackers to carry out these attacks, with, or without proper material and preparation. For instance, relatively newer companies related to logistics and manufacturing fall prey to these attacks in most cases.

Payment for Ransom

Monetary payments are a big vulnerability for companies because attackers focus on companies and organizations that can actually pay the ransom amount. These attackers carefully assess the company's value before making a decision. For instance, entertainment industry-related Ransomware attacks are one of the common ones.

It is because this entertainment-related professional works on multimillion projects. They have the resources to pay for hefty ransomware payments. A successful ransomware payment from established companies pays better than others.

How to Defend Against Ransomware

Protecting your data against a Ransomware attack is all about taking the right preventive measures to ensure your system and information remain safe from all sorts of data breaches. Users can avoid a wide majority of ransomware varieties by taking the right preventive measures. Therefore, we are going to talk about a few preventive measures to defend against a Ransomware attack.

Remember, that defending against this ransomware requires following a more holistic approach, and ensuring that you are covered on all grounds. We are going to talk about some ways you can avoid and limit the impact of Ransomware attacks from the get-go.

Prevention against Ransomware attack

Following are the best preventive measures users should practice if they want to stay safe from the impact of a Ransomware attack.

Create Regular Backup

Information loss is the biggest concern for most organizations. There is not much to lose if you have all your crucial information stored somewhere safe. Therefore, we suggest creating regular data backups to secure yourself.

However, there are a few things you need to learn about backing up information too. For example, the backup should be stored in a secure location, preferably in an offline site, so that hackers cannot access it. Cloud storage services are also another good alternative for this depending on what kind of data you want to store.

These online services can help you mitigate the ransomware threat and save multiple files in secure online storage for improved protection. However, you should always ensure that you have secure backups before rolling out.

Create Protection Policies

Organizations need to create data protection policies for their information and follow them. Companies should have a ransom attack response policy, preferably a backup team prepared to deal with the threat right away. You can reverse the majority of Ransomware attacks by taking timely action.

In addition, we also suggest listing down some vendors or business partners that can inform you about suspicious activities or potential Ransomware attacks right away.

Moreover, you should train your employees regarding “suspicious emails” and what they should do with them to avoid data compromise and encryption.

Recheck Port Settings

Some ransomware variants take advantage of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) port 3389 or other ports connected to your network. You should consider if you should leave these ports open for the public, or if you should limit them to authorized individuals only.

We suggest you check these port settings on-site as well as on cloud locations to reduce the chances of data breach and encryption.

Secure Hardpoints

System configurations in your organizations should revolve around focusing on your system security. Better configuration settings can help limit threats against your organization’s threat surface, and meet security gaps, for default configurations.

Ensure Regular System Updates

Software and system updates are crucial areas to cover for better Ransomware attack protection. Applying the latest system updates will help meet gaps in your security infrastructure that most attackers look for in systems.

A ransomware infection could become a serious problem if you do not upgrade your system. Turning on auto-updates is another effective option because it rules out the possibility of missing out on the latest application security updates.

Train Your Team

Prevention against a Ransomware attack requires everyone to take care of security even on their ends. Random emails, links, and attachments are the leading reasons for these Ransomware attacks. It is because a wide majority of these ransomware needs to be downloaded onto the system for them to attack.

However, if your employees/teams know the difference between a normal file and ransomware infection they can take the necessary steps to avoid it.

While preventive measures are a must-have to protect against a Ransomware attack, some ransomware varieties may bypass these preventive measures and attacks. Therefore, companies need to know the right steps for responding to Ransomware attacks in their organizations.

We are going to talk about responding to a Ransomware attack ahead, so ensure you read the complete section.

Steps to Respond to a Ransomware Attack

Responding to a Ransomware attack requires following a systematic approach against the attack. Following are the best steps that organizations or individuals should take if they get attacked by ransomware infection.

Isolate the Affected System

The first step that ransom attack victims need to make is assessing the extent of damage they face because of the attack. This includes the amount of data that is at risk. Most of these Ransomware attacks target complete systems, but if it is targeted towards particular sections, try to save the rest. You wouldn’t want to invest yourself.

Report the Attack

Contrary to popular belief, reporting an attack plays an essential role in countermeasure against Ransomware attacks. However, you should know the relevant authorities for the task, so that you can share the needed information with them in advance. Your first task is to contact them, share details about your particular case, and try your level best to assist them in identifying them. This step is important because the relevant professionals know how to attain the decryption key from these attackers without any investment or costs on your end.

Similarly, reporting can also help provide the authorities with sufficient information about the targets, attackers, methods of attacks, and other relevant information. The reporting authorities differ for each state. However, users in the US need to report to the FBI in most cases.

Shut Down Patient Zero

Patient zero is a term used for the source of infection. Like biological viruses, Ransomware attacks also begin from a particular area. System owners can limit these attacks from the beginning by turning off the patient zero or the source of the attack. This limits the spread of the ransomware to the other systems, peripherals, and important information stored.

Similarly, there are a few factors that can help determine the true source. For instance, you can check the server for IP addresses with the most number of files open. These people are likely the ones launching the attacks on individuals.

The first thing you should do is terminate their account use and limit their existence online. While this will not reverse the damage they performed, it will reduce the chance of further problems.

Secure Backups

Ransomware attacks not only focus on the current system information but the potential on-site backups that you may have done. The attackers have full leverage over owners if they compromise the data backups too. Thus, system owners should focus on securing their backups too. The best way to do this is to create offline backups of everything as a Ransomware attack cannot target them.

Disable Maintenance Tasks

The biggest mistake most Ransomware attack victims make is trying to restore their data right away. While this seems like a natural response, it is not the best one. It is because restoring information means you will not only reinstall files and data but also remove any evidence of the Ransomware attack. It will also prevent you from determining the cause of the attack.

Data owners should remember that there are several alternatives like anti-ransomware tools that they can use to unlock encrypted data without paying the ransomware amount.

However, there is a chance that these tools may corrupt some files during the decryption process. So, ensure you create a backup of the infected files even when you attempt to restore them yourself. You can also do a memory dump to store any Ransomware attack activity to learn more about the attack and take necessary action for it.

Identify the Strain

Ransomware strain or frequency is another important aspect that victims need to identify while dealing with information loss. The ransomware strain information helps individuals determine what works best as a solution to the attack. You can also share the strain information with a professional if you are not sure how to handle a complex Ransomware attack yourself.

It is understandable because several ransomware varieties are a little too complex to handle yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of ransomware detection tools that can help ease this process. Some of these tools include the following: · ID Ransomware · Emsisoft · No Ransom All of these tools allow victims to upload their infected files on the program, and scan it to provide file type information and other details. Should You Pay for Ransomware attacks?

A common question that most companies and organizations will come across is whether or not they should pay the attackers to retrieve their information and system control back. However, there is still no clear answer to this because it differs for each user.

For example, if a company has all essential information stored on its secure storage, the attackers do not have anything against them.

However, if you do not have this security, then you may have to make a compromise. There are still a few considerations you should keep in mind even then. For instance, the biggest concern is taking a look at your available options.

You should try your level best to avoid making the payments till the last possibility. Only consider making the payment if you have exhausted all your resources and cannot find a way of this apart from giving the attacker what they want.

While giving in seems like an easier option, we will also mention why you should never make the ransomware payments ahead. But, for now, let us take a look at some of the most common Ransomware attack examples for your reference.

Examples of Ransomware

Although ransomware varieties have been around since the 1990s, the use of these ransomware programs only became more common in the last 5 years. Developers are working on more sophisticated and harder to decrypt ransomware programs.

This will leave the victims with no options, but to pay ransom for information. Following are the most common examples of ransomware that organizations and individuals should keep in mind.

CryptoLocker

The CryptoLocker Ransomware attack was a classic approach by perpetrators that infected nearly 500,000 machines in a single attack.

Tesla Crypt

TeslaCrypt was one of the most cleverly-covered Ransomware attacks conducted as they targeted video game files, and saw constant updates when they were becoming popular.

SimpleLocker

Simple locker focused on compromising mobile devices, duplicating and locking information, and leaving the mobile devices completely useless for others.

WannaCry

This Ransomware attack used EternalBlue Technology to carry out attacks from computer to computer. The original ransomware was developed by the NSA that hackers later stole from them.

Not Petya

NotPetya was a Russian-directed program that also used EternalBlue to infect devices. This was directed primarily against systems in Ukraine as spyware and forced people to make necessary payments.

Locky

Locky started spreading through systems back in 2016, through banking-related programs. It first infected mobile devices through two android applications, namely, Booster & Cleaner and Wallpaper Blur HD. This ransomware would lock the home screen, stopping the user from accessing the device in any possible way. This was something unique as most of the other ransomware would attack the data rather than access options.

Wysiwye

The Wysiwye scans the web for open access devices on the internet and connects with them. The attackers can gain access to these devices once they connect with the other devices remotely. They can lock the device, limiting access, and impacting the overall use.

Cerber

Cerber was one of the most successful ransomware attempts that we saw in the history of these programs. Instead of individual users, it took advantage of vulnerability in Window’s system to infect networks for control. Attackers gathered over $200,000 in a matter of a few months during this ransomware’s reign. Thus, it is safe to say that almost every device is at risk of this ransomware infection if owners aren’t careful. However, let us talk about why system owners shouldn’t pay ransom for these attacks.

Why You Shouldn’t Pay Ransomware

A common concern that most victims consider is deciding whether they should pay for Ransomware attacks or not. However, the best way to handle this is not to pay the amount because there is no real guarantee that the attackers will return the access and control over the device.

Secondly, these attackers can target you again after some time if they know that you can pay the ransom. This could lead to an endless loop of payments. Moreover, several legal authorities can help minimize these Ransomware attack cases, help fight against ransomware varieties, and solve ransomware infection for free.

They can also help recover information and system control or even help you get compensation from perpetrators. However, it is important for victims to play their cards safely, and agree to the instructions by authorities. They can help you handle these sensitive situations in the best way possible and keep yourself secure during the process.

However, following the preventive measures we listed in this guide can help you stay secure from a Ransomware attack from the beginning. So, ensure you follow these steps and protect yourself from ransomware varieties, or a ransomware infection right away. It would be best to look up some anti-ransomware tools to add layered security.

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