Ransomware is a major threat to businesses and consumers. Whether you’re a person or a big company, it can be terrifying to get locked out of your system, have your files encrypted, and be threatened to pay up. Law enforcement and cybersecurity firms are battling against the rise of ransomware groups, but this illegal business is still thriving due to its high profitability. Every day, new ransomware gangs emerge, while established ones change their names and come together again to make it difficult to catch and punish them.
Learn about ransomware, how it works, and ways to protect yourself from attacks.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a major cybersecurity issue online and a significant form of cybercrime for organizations. It is harmful software that encrypts files on a computer or network, including servers.
After ransomware encrypts files, victims have limited options. To regain access to their encrypted network, they can pay a ransom to the criminals responsible for the attack. They can recover data from their backups. They hope for a freely available decryption key. Alternatively, they can begin anew.
Ransomware infections can begin when someone in an organization unknowingly clicks on a harmless-looking attachment. This attachment then downloads a harmful program that encrypts the entire network.
Some big ransomware attacks use software weaknesses, hacked passwords, and other vulnerabilities to get into organizations. They target weak spots like servers connected to the internet or remote desktop logins. The attackers will secretly search the network and gain control before encrypting everything they can.
Companies of any size can face a significant problem if essential files, documents, networks, or servers are suddenly encrypted and inaccessible. To make matters worse, if you fall victim to file-encrypting ransomware, the criminals will boldly inform you that they have taken your corporate data hostage. They will demand a ransom payment in exchange for returning your data. Some people may even share stolen data online for everyone to view.
How did Ransomware evolve?
It has become more common in recent years, but it’s not a new thing. The first known case of ransomware was seen in 1989. The virus, also called AIDS or the PC Cyborg Trojan, was sent to victims using a floppy disc. The ransomware kept track of how many times the PC was turned on. When it reached 90, it locked the computer and its files. To unlock them, the user had to pay $189 or $378 to a post office box in Panama and renew their license with ‘PC Cyborg Corporation.’
The early ransomware was simple and used basic cryptography. It mainly changed file names, which made it easy to overcome.
However, it created a new branch of computer crime that grew over time. When dial-up internet became available to consumers, there was a sudden increase in basic ransomware.
One popular variant was called “police ransomware.” It tried to extort victims by pretending that their computers had been encrypted by law enforcement. The screen was locked with a ransom note, warning users about their illegal online activity that could lead to jail time.
If the victim paid a fine, the “police” would let the infringement go and give back access to the computer by providing the decryption key. No, this had nothing to do with law enforcement. These were criminals taking advantage of innocent people.
Criminals have adopted this method, and now most ransomware schemes use advanced cryptography to lock infected computers and their files.
What are the main types of Ransomware?
It constantly changes, with new versions appearing regularly and posing new dangers to businesses. Some types of ransomware have been more successful than others.
North Korea’s WannaCry was used in a major ransomware attack. In 2017, ransomware caused chaos worldwide. Over 300,000 victims in 150+ countries were affected.
Locky was a very famous type of ransomware in 2016. It caused a lot of trouble for organizations all over the world. It spreads through phishing emails.
REvil was a major ransomware family in 2021. They targeted many important organizations by encrypting their networks.
Conti, similar to REvil, uses network encryption and threats to release data to extort ransom money. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has warned about ongoing Conti ransomware attacks. These attacks have targeted various organizations, including healthcare services and hospitals.
Cerber used to be a popular type of ransomware called ‘Ransomware-as-a-Service’ (RaaS). It allowed people without technical skills to attack and share the profits with the creators.
Ransomware is malware that aims to lock you out of your system and deny access to your files. It comes in different forms, but its primary purpose is restricting your access. Certain types of ransomware can spread through networks, encrypt or delete data, and even have surveillance capabilities.
It operations change often, with people moving between them or looking for new chances. It leads to a constant stream of new ransomware versions that could become major threats.
What are the major Ransomware attacks in 2023?
In February, Dish Network, a broadcast giant, experienced an attack that caused service outages and exposed data of around 300,000 individuals. According to a letter from affected individuals, the company may have paid a ransom as they received confirmation that the stolen data had been deleted.
In January, the Royal Mail delivery service in the UK was attacked, causing major disruptions to deliveries within and internationally. As a result, a ransom demand of $80 million was made to the service. The company officials declined to make payment.
Caesars, a casino operator, was hit by a ransomware attack and data breach. This resulted in the theft of customer data. The firm reportedly paid around half of a $30 million ransomware demand.
The hackers responsible for a ransomware attack on MGM Resorts were able to attack by getting the necessary credentials through a simple phone call. This attack caused chaos and disrupted various services, including point-of-sale systems. Casino slot machines and hotel room cards suddenly stopped working.
Why should organizations be concerned about Ransomware?
In simple terms, ransomware can ruin your business. If malware locks you out of your files, even for one day, it will affect your revenue. It can cause victims to be offline for weeks or months, resulting in significant losses. Systems can stay offline for a long time due to ransomware locking them, as well as the extensive time and effort needed to clean up and restore networks.
Ransomware doesn’t just hurt a business financially; it also makes consumers hesitant to trust insecure companies with their data. Cybercriminals now target not only businesses but also critical infrastructures like hospitals and industrial facilities with ransomware attacks. Disruptions can significantly impact people.
Ransomware campaigns are now targeting the education sector more frequently. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools and universities started relying on remote learning. Unfortunately, cybercriminals took advantage of this situation. Education networks are used by many people, often on their devices. Unfortunately, just one successful phishing email or cracked password can give a malicious hacker access to the entire network.
Why are small businesses targets for Ransomware?
Small and medium-sized businesses are often targeted because their cybersecurity is usually weaker than larger organizations. Many small businesses mistakenly think they are too small to be targeted. However, even a small ransom of a few hundred dollars can be very profitable for cybercriminals. Small businesses and easy targets are often attractive to hackers because supply chain attacks can give them access to more extensive and profitable targets.
What makes Ransomware so successful?
Ransomware has become popular because it is effective. It can easily infiltrate your network if a user makes a mistake and opens a harmful email attachment if a weak password is cracked, or if a business neglects to update vulnerable software.
If organizations refused to pay ransom, criminals would seek other targets. For criminals, it’s a simple way to earn money. Why bother with complicated code or making fake credit cards from stolen bank information when ransomware can quickly get you paid without much risk of getting caught?
How is cryptocurrency associated with the increase in Ransomware attacks?
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have made it easier for cybercriminals to receive payments without being easily identified or traced by authorities.
Digital wallets store cryptocurrency, and although not completely untraceable, they make it harder to track and seize illegal funds. It is especially true when the crypto funds are mixed and filtered through multiple wallets and exchanges.
Ransomware groups often provide “customer service” to assist victims unfamiliar with acquiring or sending cryptocurrency. It is because it would be pointless to make ransom demands if users need to learn how to pay.
How do you prevent a Ransomware attack?
To prevent ransomware attacks, organizations should avoid exposing unnecessary ports to the internet. Hackers often exploit insecure internet-facing ports and remote desktop protocols to initiate these attacks.
To ensure security, organizations should use complex login credentials when using remote ports. Using multi-factor authentication for these accounts can also defend against attacks. It will notify you if there is any unauthorized access attempt.
It’s essential to update networks with the latest security patches. It helps protect against ransomware and other malware that often exploit common vulnerabilities.
Managers should train employees to recognize suspicious emails to prevent attacks. Employees who notice unusual details, like an email with messy formatting or a message claiming to be from ‘Microsoft Security’ but sent from a strange address that doesn’t even mention Microsoft, can help prevent network infections.
Preventing employees from enabling macros is an important measure to avoid accidental execution of ransomware files. Endpoint protection, firewalls, and behavioral anomaly detection solutions can all be helpful.
Employers should invest in and regularly update antivirus software to protect against harmful files. It’s essential to back up important files and protect them from being compromised during an attack. It allows for network recovery without having to pay a ransom.
Even if attacks are already in the network, it’s not too late. Information security teams can detect unusual or suspicious activity before a ransomware attack and minimize or prevent the attack.
How long does it take to recover from Ransomware?
It can severely damage an entire organization. When a network is encrypted, it becomes almost useless, and there is only so much that can be done once the systems are restored.
If a business has backups, they can regain their systems online once the network is restored. However, the time can vary from a few hours to days, depending on the company’s size.
Although it is possible to restore functionality in the short term, it may take organizations several months to fully recover and have all their systems operational again. It can cause immediate harm to a network, but it can also lead to ongoing financial losses. Being offline for any amount of time is detrimental to a business because it means the organization cannot deliver its intended service and cannot generate revenue. The longer the system is down, the greater the impact.
Assuming your customers want to keep doing business with you. Being targeted by a cyberattack can scare away customers in specific industries.
How do I remove Ransomware?
The ‘No More Ransom’ initiative was started in July 2016 by Europol and the Dutch National Police, along with cybersecurity companies. It provides free decryption tools for different types of ransomware. These tools help victims recover their encrypted data without giving in to cyber extortionists.
The program is available in many languages and constantly adds new tools to decrypt different types of ransomware. Security companies often release decryption tools to combat the ever-changing ransomware. They usually share updates on their company blogs once they have successfully cracked the code.
To protect against ransomware, ensure your organization regularly backs up data offline. Transferring backup files to a new machine may take time. However, if a computer is infected and you have backups, you can isolate the infected unit and continue your work. Ensure that cyber criminals cannot encrypt your backups as well.</p>
Can smartphones get Ransomware?
Ransomware attacks on Android devices are on the rise. Cyber criminals have discovered that many people are unaware that smartphones can be targeted. These attacks involve encrypting personal content on smartphones and demanding ransom. Different types of Android ransomware have bothered mobile users. Any device connected to the internet can be targeted by ransomware.
Can Ransomware affect IoT devices?
The Internet of Things has a bad security reputation. With the increasing number of connected devices in the market, cyber criminals will have numerous opportunities to attack. It could result in hackers taking control of your connected home or car. Imagine discovering a ransom note on your smart refrigerator or car’s dashboard, in addition to dealing with an encrypted file.
Your employees need to know about the evolving threat of ransomware. Organizations should take all necessary precautions to prevent infection, as It can cause severe damage, and decryption may not always be possible.