September 10, 2018 / mcacao
Ransomware is one of the most dangerous cyber attacks that can be launched by hackers against an organization, an individual, or a group of both. It is a malware that prevents the users from accessing their network, computers and other devices, and/or their files. It literally locks down laptops, tablets, servers, and all other equipment related to them, paralyzing operations of the victim and holding all his data hostage. Online documents, images, videos, spreadsheets and all other forms of data are encrypted and stored away, and made subject to the hacker’s use. The hacker will release all these captive IT elements only if the victim succumbs to his demands and pays him the amount of money he is asking for. An encryption key will be sent to the victim upon payment. Once this key is inputted into the system, the entire IT infrastructure goes back into operations mode and all its files again will be made accessible to the users.
Failure to pay may lead to the indefinite paralysis of all IT operations. Or worse, the hacker can damage the systems, delete the files, and/or sell them to other criminal parties. Credit card information, for example, can be used to pay for another person’s purchase, or a hacker’s ‘client’ can use stolen medical records to avail of an insurance which the legitimate account holder will end up paying.
Ransom money takes the form of bitcoin or other crypto-currency which would be hard to trace. Some hackers have asked for gift cards from iTunes or Amazon. The average amount demanded by cyber thieves from their individual victims has risen from $294 in 2015 to $679 in 2016. They demand a lot more from organizations with ransom ranging from $10,000 to $40,000. The highest ransom money extorted from multi-national corporations was $150,000.
How a Ransomware Attack Happens
A ransomware hacker launches his attack in various ways. One of the most frequent is sending the virus through an attachment in an email sent to the user or an employee in the organization. Once the attachment is clicked open, the malware is released and begins infiltrating the system. Another form has an email invitation asking the user to open or click on a website that turns out to be malicious because it carries the malware. Again, clicking on that site will expose the user to the malware. Other more resourceful hackers can do away with email and instead probe for intrinsic flaws in the IT system of the organization itself. Once they spot a vulnerability or a weak link, they send the malware to exploit it. Ransomware then embeds itself in the system and begins locking down files and devices.
The user or employees usually do not realize what is going on until the ransomware attack fully reveals itself. All of a sudden, spontaneously, all the devices affected by the attack stop working. The screens of the infected desktops and laptops light up with a startling image such as pornographic shots or laughing faces of cartoon terrorists. The image also bears the message of the hacker, telling his victims that all their files and devices have been held in ransom. The screen message also instructs the victims what they should do in order to retrieve their files. It also informs them of the consequences of failure.
Different Kinds of Ransomware
Ransomware has become a preferred means of extortion by hackers because of the fast way it delivers its payload, and the intensity by which it can scare the victims into paying up. Compared to other cyber attacks, ransomware is a way to get ‘easy money.’ This aspect has made hackers continually develop various forms of ransomware in order to keep themselves one step ahead of the authorities, and bypass or neutralize the preventive measures of their victims. Some of the different kinds of ransomware are as follows:
How to Protect Yourself from Ransomware
User training and education, a backup and recovery system, and software tools that can detect and/or prevent a ransomware attack can combine to stop your system from being held hostage by a cyber hacker.
Training and education
Backup and recovery system
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