Ransomware is a big issue for many companies – whether you are large or small. This great article, published by ZDNet outlines what it is, how it started and where it’s going. A must read for anyone concerned about Ramsomware.
Known as AIDS or the PC Cyborg Trojan, the virus was sent to victims — mostly in the healthcare industry — on a floppy disc. The ransomware counted the number of times the PC was booted: once it hit 90, it encrypted the machine and demanded the user ‘renew their license’ with ‘PC Cyborg Corporation ‘ by sending $189 or $378 to a post office box in Panama.
How did ransomware evolve?
This early ransomware was a relatively simple construct, using basic cryptography which mostly just changed the names of files, making it relatively easy to overcome.
But it set off a new branch of computer crime, which slowly but surely grew in reach — and really took off in the internet age. Before they began using advanced cryptography to target corporate networks, hackers were targeting general internet users with basic ransomware.
One of the most successful variants was ‘Police ransomware’, which tried to extort victims by claiming to be law enforcement and locking the screen with a message warning the user they’d committed illegal online activity, which could get them sent to jail.
However, if the victim paid a fine, the ‘police’ would let the infringement slide and restore access to the computer. Of course, this wasn’t anything to do with law enforcement — this was criminals exploiting innocent people.
While somewhat successful, these forms of ransomware often simply overlaid their ‘warning’ message on the user’s display — and rebooting the machine could get rid of the problem.
Criminals learned from this and now the majority of ransomware schemes use advanced cryptography to truly lock down an infected PC.
What are the main types of ransomware?
Ransomware is always evolving, with new variants continually appearing in the wild and posing new threats to businesses. However, there are certain types of ransomware which have been much more successful than others.
Locky is successful because those behind it regularly update the code with changes which allow it to avoid detection. They even update it with new functions, including the ability to make ransom demands in 30 languages, helping criminals more easily target victims in around the world. Locky has become so successful, it’s one of the most prevelant forms of malware in its own right.
Cryptowall is another form of ransomware which has found great success for a prolonged period of time. Starting life as doppleganger of Cryptolocker, it’s gone onto become one of the most successful types of ransomware.
While some ransomware developers — like those behind Locky or Cryptowall — closely guard their product, keeping it solely for their own use, others happily distribute ransomware to any wannabe hacker keen to cash in on cyber extortion.
One of the most common forms of ransomware distributed in this way is Cerber, which has been known to infect hundreds of thousands of users in just a single month. The original creators of Cerber are selling it on the dark web, allowing other criminals to use the code in return for receiving 40 percent of each ransom paid.
In exchange for giving up some of the profits, wannabe cyber fraudsters are provided with everything they need in order to successfully make money through extortion of victims.
Ultimately, whatever the size of the company, time is money and the longer your network is down, the more it’s going to cost your business.
Even if you regain access to your networks by paying a ransom, there will be additional costs on top of that. In order to avoid future attacks — especially if you’ve been marked as an easy target — be prepared to invest in additional cybersecurity software and to pay for additional staff training.
There’s also the risk of customers losing trust in your business because of poor cybersecurity and taking their custom elsewhere.
Why should businesses worry about ransomware?
To put it simply: ransomware could ruin your business. Being locked out of your own network for even just a day will impact on your revenue. But given that ransomware takes most victims offline for at least a week, or sometimes months, the losses can be significant. Systems go offline for so long not just because ransomware locks the system, but because of all the effort required to clean up and restore the networks.
And it isn’t just the immediate financial hit of ransomware which will damage a business; consumers become wary of giving their custom to organisations they believe to be insecure.
How does ransomware infect your PC?
It’s the modern enterprise’s reliance on the internet which is enabling ransomware to boom. Everyday, every employee receives hundreds of emails and many roles require these employees to download and open attachments, so it’s something which is often done on autopilot. Taking advantage of employees’ willingness to open attachments from unknown senders is allowing cybercriminals to successfully run ransomware campaigns.
While some messages give away clues to their malicious nature with poorly-worded messages or strange return addresses, others are specially tailored to look as convincing as possible, and appear no different from any other message the victim might be sent.
Once the malicious attachment has been opened, the user is encouraged to enable macros in order to view and edit the document. It’s when this is enabled that the ransomware code hidden within the macros strikes. It can encrypt files in seconds, leaving the victim with a ransom note demanding a payment ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars in order to get them back.
Which organisations are targets for ransomware?
Any business can find itself a victim of ransomware, but perhaps the most high-profile incident occurred when the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles became infected with Locky ransomware. The infection left doctors and nurses unable to access patient files for days, until the hospital opted to give into the ransom demands of hackers in order to restore services.
“The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” Allen Stefanek, CEO of the hospital, said at the time.
Hospitals and other healthcare organisations are popular targets for ransomware attacks, because they are often willing to pay. Losing access to data is a life-or-death matter for them — and hospitals don’t want to be held responsible for letting people die due to poor cybersecurity. However, there are even cybercriminals who think attacking hospitals is too despicable an activity.
Small and medium -ized businesses are a popular target because they tend to have poorer cybersecurity than large organisations. Despite that, many SMEs falsely believe they’re too small to be targeted — but even a ‘smaller’ ransom of a few hundred dollars is still highly profitable for cybercriminals.
Why is ransomwareso successful?
You could say there’s one key reason why ransomware has boomed: because it works. Organisations can have the best antivirus software in the world, but all it takes for ransomware to infect the network is for one user to slip up and launch a malicious attachment.
If organisations weren’t giving in to ransom demands, criminals would stop using ransomware. But businesses do need access to data in order to function so many are willing to pay a ransom and get it over and done with.
Meanwhile, for criminals it’s a very easy way to make money. Why spend time and effort developing complex code or generating fake credit cards from stolen bank details if ransomware can result in instant payments of hundreds or even thousands of dollars from large swathes of infected victims at once?
What does Bitcoin have to do with the rise of ransomware?
The rise of crypocurrencies like Bitcoin has made it easy for cybercriminals to secretly receive extorted payments, without the risk of the authorities being able to identify the perpetrators. The secure, untraceable method of making payments makes it the perfect currency for criminals who want their financial activities to remain hidden.
On a technical level, stopping employees from being able to enable macros is a big step towards ensuring that they can’t unwittingly run a ransomware file. Microsoft Office 2016 — and now Microsoft 2013 — both carry features which allow macros to be disabled. At the very least, employers should invest in antivirus software and keep it up-to0date, so that it can warn users about potentially malicious files.
How do I get rid of ransomware?
The ‘No More Ransom’ initiative — launched by Europol and the Dutch National Police in collaboration with a number of cybersecurity companies — offers free decryption tools for ransomware variants to help victims retrieve their data without succumbing to the will of cyber extortionists.
The portal offers decryption tools for ransomware varients including Crypt XXX, MarsJoke, Teslacrypt, and Wildfire. It’s updated as often as possible in an effort to ensure tools are available to fight the latest forms of ransomware.
Another way of working around a ransomware infection is to ensure your organisation regularly backs up data offline. It might take some time to transfer the backup files onto a new machine, but if a computer is infected and you have backups, it’s possible just to isolate that unit then get on with your business.
But be warned: if word gets out that your organisation is an easy target for cybercriminals because it paid a ransom, you could find yourself in the crosshairs of other cybercriminals who are looking to take advantage of your weak security.
As ransomware continues to evolve, it’s therefore crucial for your employees to understand the threat it poses, and for organisations to do everything possible to avoid infection, because ransomware can be crippling.
Note:ZDNet have been in IT web publishing going back to the early days of the web in 1991. They publish many exceptional articles from some of the biggest names in IT, across a wide range of technologies.
Make sure you put ZDNet on your must read list.
As you can see, Ransomware is a big issue for everyone concerned and vigilance plays a big part in preventing infections on your network – we can all play a part. If you require guidance or training around what to look for, please contact your account manager on 1300 799 928. We’re happy to help!