Learn About Ransomware: A Malware That Keeps Your Data as A Hostage
For data that’s quite near and dear to you, you would do anything to keep it protected, wouldn’t you? When someone targets you with a ransomware, this is exactly the weak spot that they intend on hitting. The significance of data in modern times has evolved so much that if there’s even a chance that the access to the data is blocked, one wouldn’t mind paying money in exchange for access. This is what ransomware is all about, using an individual’s or an organization’s need for data against them. Let’s explore the threat of ransomware in more depth.
What Exactly Is a Ransomware?
Ransomware is a kind of malware that attacks a system by blocking user access to partial or complete data on the system. The data can be locked through encryption so there is no way for a user to access the data without a decryption key, which is in the possession of the attacker. The user is asked to pay a ransom to the attacker, usually through digital currencies, in exchange for the decryption key. Attackers prefer virtual currencies as the mode for receiving their ransom payment because tracing such transactions is nearly impossible, and therefore the chance of catching the attackers also becomes very slim. If the victim fails to pay the demanded ransom on time, there is not only the risk that they could lose their data forever, but there is also the risk that the attacker might publish the victim’s private data. There have been quite a few famous instances of a ransomware attack in the recent times, most notably WannaCry, Reveton, Petya, CryptoLocker, Bad Rabbit, etc.
While the basic principle of ransomware is preventing users from accessing their data, the method via which this is accomplished can vary. The ransomware could lock the screen of the user’s device by altering the login id and password for the device. This is a simpler version of a ransomware attack, where the victim might be able to wiggle out of the situation taking help from an expert. A more complex type of ransomware attack is where either certain select files or the complete hard drive of the device is encrypted. In addition to the primarily attacked device, other devices which are connected to the network may also get affected by this ransomware. Getting out of such a ransomware attack is not so easy.
How Does a Ransomware Attack Take Place?
The big question here is how does this kind of malware attack takes place. There are multiple methods via which ransomware can infect a system.
Phishing emails are one of the most common ways used for spreading malware, which makes it a good medium for spreading ransomware too. The phishing email sent to the victim may be accompanied by an attachment that secretly contains the ransomware. When the unsuspecting user opens or downloads the attachment, the ransomware kicks into action. The email may also feature link to a malicious web page, setting the stage for a ransomware attack when the user visits the web page. Phishing messages containing the threat of ransomware may also be sent via messages on social media. Clicking on malvertisements can also launch a ransomware attack. For more information on what malvertisements are, read: Online Ads Can Be Dangerous for Cybersecurity.
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a common method used by attackers to remotely access and infect a system with ransomware. Attackers could also use exploit kit to target systems with software applications that are not updated and thus have cracks in the security that offer an entry point into the system. Using external storage devices that are already infected with a ransomware also poses risk.
Once a device has been infected by the ransomware, user will get an alert on their device about the attack along with the instructions that they need to follow for completing the ransom payment and having their data released. What’s most dangerous about a ransomware attack is that even after the victim does make the payment, there is no guarantee that they will regain access to their data. In case the attacker doesn’t come through with their promise, the victim would be out of money and would have also lost their valuable data.
Who Can Be a Victim of a Ransomware Attack?
Practically speaking, anyone can become a victim of a ransomware attack, from home users to big corporate organizations. The impact and consequences of the attack will also vary from victim to victim. For an organization, the stakes would be a lot higher. Without being able to access their data, they might find it impossible to carry on with their daily operations. They could face huge monetary losses due to operational delays. If the organization finds no other option but to pay, then the ransom amount paid would just add to their already mounting expenses.
5 Tips To Prevent A Ransomware Attack From Happening To You
The only best strategy when it comes to dealing with a ransomware attack is prevention. Here are some tips that can prevent you from becoming a victim of such an attack:
- Make regular backups of your data, so that in the event of a ransomware attack, you are able to recover all your data without having to pay the ransom. Ensure that the backups are stored on a different network altogether. Hiring a managed IT services provider can help greatly with the backup and recovery process.
- When you see a suspicious email in your inbox, don’t click on the links or open any attachments in the email, no matter how tempting the message of the email may be. Chances are that it’s a phishing email presenting a malware attack (possibly a ransomware attack). Read more on phishing here: What is a Phishing Attack.
- Have a good firewall and anti-malware software solution in place as a security measure. Update the anti-virus software from time to time.
- Any extensions or plugins that you are not using should have no place in your web browser.
- Install security updates on your operating system and software applications regularly, reducing your system vulnerability with every update. This article here explains the role of security updates in your system security: About Pesky Security Updates.