What is Ransomware? Ransomware is a type of malicious software, in short called malware that infects a computer and restricts users’ access to it, until a ransom amount is paid to unlock it. Ransomware variants have been observed for several years and often attempt to extort money from victims by displaying an on-screen alert.
Typically, these alerts state that the user’s system have been locked or that the user’s files have been encrypted. Users are told that unless a ransom amount is paid, access to the computer system and files, will not be restored. The ransom demanded from individuals varies greatly, but is frequently range between US$ 200 – US$ 400 and must be paid in virtual currency, such as Bitcoin or any other crypto currency.
How does a computer system become infected with the Ransomware? Ransomware is often spread through phishing emails that contain malicious attachments or through drive-by downloading. Drive-by downloading occurs when a user unknowingly visits an infected website and then malware is downloaded and installed in the system, without the user’s knowledge. Crypto currency ransomware, a malware variant that encrypts files, is spread through similar methods and has also been spread through social media, such as Web-based instant messaging applications. Additionally, newer methods of ransomware infection have been observed. For example, vulnerable web servers have been exploited by hackers, as an entry point to gain access to an organisation’s network.
Why is Ransomware so effective? The authors of ransomware attack, instill fear and panic into their victims, causing them to click on a link or pay a ransom, and users’ system can become infected with the additional malware. Ransomware displays intimidating messages similar to those below:
“Your computer has been infected with a virus. Click here to resolve the issue.”
“Your computer was used to visit websites with illegal content. To unlock your computer, you must pay a US$100 fine.” Pay fast and don’t complain to security agency.
“All files on your computer have been encrypted. You must pay this ransom within 72 hours to regain access to your data.”
What is the possible impact of the Ransomware attacks? Ransomware not only targets home users; businesses entities can also become infected with ransomware, leading to negative consequences, including temporary or permanent loss of sensitive or proprietary information, disruption to regular operations, financial losses incurred to restore systems and files, and
Potential harm to an organisation’s global reputation.
The ransomware attacks have dramatically increased during the ‘work from home’ or WFH situation, as eWorkers do not enjoy the security of ‘castle and moat’ model and are always vulnerable to attacks as there is no ‘perimeter security’ and cloud storage of data becomes vulnerable to possible phishing and spear phishing attacks, which are very targeted and pointed attacks.
Paying the ransom amount does not guarantee that the encrypted files will be released back; it only guarantees that the malicious actors receive the victim’s money, and in some cases, their banking information. In addition, decrypting files does not mean the malware infection itself has been removed.
What do I do to protect against Ransomware?
Attacks can be devastating to an individual or organisation, and recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist;
US – CERT or United State – Computer emergency response team, recommends that users and administrators take the following preventive measures to protect their computer networks from ransomware infection:
Employ a data backup and recovery plan for all critical information. Perform and test regular backups to limit the impact of data or system loss and to expedite the recovery process.
Note that network-connected backups can also be affected by ransomware; critical backups should be isolated from the network for optimum protection.
Keep your operating system and software up-to-date with the latest patches. Vulnerable applications and operating systems are the targets of most attacks. Ensuring these are patched with the latest updates greatly reduces the number of exploitable entry points available to an attacker.
Maintain up-to-date anti-virus software, and scan all software downloaded from the internet prior to executing the same.
Restrict users’ ability (permissions) to install and run unwanted software applications, and apply the principle of “Least Privilege” to all systems and services. Restricting these privileges may prevent malware from running or limit its capability to spread through the network.
Avoid enabling macros from email attachments. If a user opens the attachment and enables macros, embedded code will execute the malware on the system.
Do not follow unsolicited web links in emails, as part of directed spear phishing attacks.
Individuals or organisations are discouraged from paying the ransom, as this does not guarantee files will be released. However, the FBI has advised that if Cryptolocker, Cryptowall or other sophisticated forms of ransomware are involved, the victim may not be able to get their data back without paying a ransom.
What do I do if I believe my system has been infected by Ransomware?
Preliminary signs that your system may have been infected by Ransomware are:
Your web browser or desktop is locked with a message about how to pay to unlock your system and / or your file directories contain a “ransom note” file that is usually a .txt file.
All of your files have a new file extension appended to the filenames
Examples of Ransomware file extensions: .ecc, .ezz, .exx, .zzz, .xyz, .aaa, .abc, .ccc, .vvv, .xxx, .ttt, .micro, .encrypted, .locked, .crypto, _crypt, .crinf, .r5a, .XRNT, .XTBL, .crypt, .R16M01D05, .pzdc, .good, .LOL!, .OMG!, .RDM, .RRK, .encryptedRSA, .crjoker, .EnCiPhErEd, .LeChiffre, .keybtc@inbox_com, .0x0, .bleep, .1999, .vault, .HA3, .toxcrypt, .magic, .SUPERCRYPT, .CTBL, .CTB2, .locky or 6-7 length extension consisting of random characters are some of the probable extensions.
Responding to a Ransomware Infection to the computer systems and what to do if you believe your system has been infected with ransomware are as follows:
1. Disconnect from the Networks; Unplug Ethernet cables and disable wifi or any other network adapters.
Put your device in Airplane Mode
Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
This can aid in preventing the spread of the ransomware to the shared network resources such as file shares.
2. Disconnect External Devices; immediately disconnect:
USB drives or memory sticks;
Attached phones or cameras
External hard drives
Or any other devices that could also become compromised.
Ransomware is a growing menace and Russian hackers are making life difficult for US based companies and extract ransom upto US $ 2 million or above.
Virtual thieves can attack anytime, anywhere and at any place.