Ransomware Attacks: A Complete Guide

Ransomware attacks are a serious threat to businesses and individuals across the globe. The way they work is so effective that these types of malware cost companies worldwide millions of dollars every year. However, that isn’t to say companies are powerless to prevent these attacks. Steps can be taken to minimize the damage and protect yourself and your business from ransomware.

Read below to find out how to prepare for and how to prevent ransomware attacks.

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Ransomware Definition

What is a ransomware attack? Ransomware is defined as a form of malware that takes hold of a victim’s data and information and encrypts it in order to hold it hostage with a key that only the attacker has access to. This can range from anything to an automated virus that will return information once a payment has been received or the specific demand realized to a simple encryption virus that the attacker will manually release once they’ve received what they want. Ransomware attacks as a whole are extremely dangerous and exceedingly effective.

Ransomware Types

There are three primary categories that most forms of ransomware fall into. The first is locker ransomware.

Locker ransomware completely shuts down and blocks access to vital systems. These viruses can make a computer impossible to access. The most commonly seen examples of this type often create a pop-up that blocks access to the system, saying the device was used to visit sites with “illegal content” and that a fine must be paid in order to unlock access.

Crypto-ransomware is a very common type of ransomware that encrypts important files that it can spread to. This type typically spreads extremely quickly, and while it doesn’t block access to the entire system, attempting to access the infected files will give a similar pop-up demanding a fee.

Double extortion ransomware is essentially a blackmail virus. It encrypts files and sends the uncorrupted versions to the attacker. When someone attempts to access the files, they’re met with a demand for a fee, similar to crypto-ransomware. However, the key difference is that the attacker threatens to publicly release or publish the stolen data if the demands are not met.

How Do Ransomware Attacks Work?

Now that we’ve covered the different types, it’s time to take a deeper look into ransomware. How do these attacks start, and how does ransomware work?

Where Do Ransomware Attacks Come From?

Ransomware is an advanced virus that is created by hackers like any other sort of malware. However, every ransomware attack doesn’t use an entirely new virus. While they may change and evolve, overall ransomware consists of a few different widely-used versions (Bad Rabbit, Cryptolocker, Petya, Locky, and Jigsaw, to name a few).

These forms of malware can be picked up and used by just about anyone – not only skilled hackers. This is what makes ransomware so dangerous. As more and more people get their hands on it, it’s being more and more commonly used. Even business models involving selling the ransomware exist, but more on those below.

How Does Ransomware Spread?

While it depends on the ransomware type, the methods it uses for transport are all relatively similar. Most are delivered to a device initially through an email or a message. Once interacted with, the virus takes hold, similar to any other malware. Once its roots are planted, most ransomware will begin looking for the most valuable data to collect and encrypt or search for any other systems that are connected to its current root system in order to spread further and have access to a greater data pool.

At this point, once it has a sufficient collection of valuable data under its grasp, it will lock it down. Most ransomware won’t risk detection by locking data immediately, so it will attempt to spread as far as it can before encrypting and locking files. However, this isn’t exactly much of a grace period where the system is safe. Most ransomware spreads extremely quickly.

What is Ransomware Detection?

As you probably guessed, the faster you find the malware, the better. Early detection is key to efficient response to any ransomware attacks. It allows you more time to decide response options and relieves the risk of infection being able to spread indefinitely. Ransomware detection typically does this in three ways:

By Signature

Signature detection is the most simple of the three. It compares the signature of incoming files and data to those found in a library that it keeps to see if it recognizes and trusts it. However, this form is quickly becoming less useful as malware evolves. Ransomware is being built and adapted to “cloak” its signature in order to pass under the radar.

By Behavior

Behavior detection watches any new files’ activity to see if it does any actions similar to what is associated with malware. This detection is useful because ransomware often has very obviously strange behavior compared to normal files. It will often watch for any files attempting to suspiciously reach out and interact with other files on the system without reason.

By Abnormal Traffic

Rather than a single system, abnormal traffic detection watches the entire network for signs of anything strange. Out-of-place traffic for various systems on the network, such as data jumping from system to system rapidly, can be reported in order to stop ransomware from slipping across devices undetected.

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks?

Here we’ll cover how to prevent ransomware attacks before they happen. This is the best-case scenario, as stopping it before infection starts is the only way to ensure utter safety.

Prevention tips for ransomware are similar to any other malware. Use trusted, updated antivirus software in order to keep your devices protected and clean. Employ the use of a trusted VPN service in order to keep better control of who has a hold of your network IP. And, of course, interact with emails cautiously, especially those from unknown senders.

However, with ransomware, in particular, it’s extremely vital to remember to always keep backups of important files stored on separate systems. That way, even in the event of a total system lockdown, you aren’t helpless to retrieve those encrypted files. Having those backups on the same system can be helpful, yes. But it also runs the risk of ransomware encrypting those backups as well, or even locking down that whole system and rendering the backups useless.

How to Stop Ransomware in Action?

While it’s much more difficult to fight against ransomware in action, it’s not impossible. There are a few steps you should start by taking immediately so as to avoid further damage:

Isolate any infected devices, and then disconnect them from the network ASAP. This will stop the virus from spreading amongst them, as well as jumping to the network to just find new devices to infest.

Now, begin looking into the damages. See what was infected, what was lost, and try to find where the infection started.

Now, look to see what data you have uncorrupted backups of. In a best-case scenario, you may have enough healthy backups that nothing important was lost. However, this often isn’t the case.

Once you’ve figured out how bad the damage is, it’s time to do some research. Figure out what strain of ransomware you’ve been hit with. This will determine how you go about handling the matter. Some strains are easier to recover from than others.

Some websites and online services offer decryption tools for free for victims of ransomware attacks. While they don’t work for every attack, it’s certainly worth looking into. And in a worst-case scenario, if all else fails, you’ll need to decide how you’ll respond. You can either meet the demands and hope they honor their end of the deal or simply let the lost data go.

What is Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)?

Similar to the popular “Software as a Service (SaaS)” business model, Ransomware as a Service is a term for subscription-based ransomware. The ransomware virus is pre-developed, and the attacker uses it to force companies and individuals to pay the ransom. On any successful payouts, the attacker and the developer of the ransomware share the profit.

This service is a growing danger to companies, as it allows dangerous malware to fall into the hands of just about anyone with an internet connection.

Why Shouldn’t I Just Pay the Ransom?

It’s estimated that about 83% of all ransomware victims meet the demands of the attacker and pay the ransom. It’s not hard to see why. When your important files and data are held hostage, and you’re given a short timeframe to respond to the demands, many often make unwise decisions in how to deal with the situation. But why shouldn’t you meet the demand? What if all that corrupted data is well worth the money being demanded?

Unfortunately, ransomware attackers aren’t exactly saints bound to their word. Not every ransomware strain automatically unlocks once the payment is made. Most often, the attacker has some sort of say whether the lock comes off or not. And all too often, it doesn’t.

Meeting these demands won’t always guarantee the safe return of your data, and more often than not, will just tell the hacker that you and your company are willing to bend a knee to attackers in order to recover what’s stolen, which isn’t a good reputation to have.

Can Ransomware Infect Cloud Storage Solutions?

Recent years have seen more and more ransomware built specifically to infect cloud infrastructures. The cloud is no longer impenetrable when it comes to ransomware viruses. In fact, some of the new ransomware strains built for the cloud actually spread faster than most other versions, meaning cloud users should be extra cautious when it comes to malware like this.

Are Ransomware Attacks Increasing?

In short, yes. As more and more individuals and teams are able to get their hands on this kind of malware, the number of ransomware attacks on a yearly basis is increasing. Pair this with the world’s recent transition of companies taking their businesses online, and it’s only given hackers all the more reason to step up their game.

Ransomware attacks, both small-scale and large-scale, are growing more and more common. And while the means of defense and prevention against these attacks are evolving as well, it will take some caution and care from business owners to defend themselves and their team from being caught in these attacks.

Is There a Single Solution Against Ransomware?

Like with most malware, no. There is no magic shield that will keep ransomware from ever getting to your company’s systems. However, a combination of safety measures, common sense, and taking precautions online will prove more than effective in reducing your network’s chances of being infected with ransomware and falling prey to an attacker’s demands.

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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from EasyDMARC authored by Knarik Petrosyan. Read the original post at: