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Even if you are not a cybersecurity expert or IT professional, you probably have heard about ransomware. The information about ransomware attacks is emerging every now and then from newspapers, the internet, TV, etc. You could have noticed that 2020 has been especially abundant in such news: “unprecedented rise of ransomware”, “ransomware is the biggest cybersecurity threat”, “top ransomware attacks”, “companies paralyzed by ransomware attacks”, etc. So what a monster is that? Who can be affected? How to get rid of it…or maybe to prevent it?
Ransomware is malware (a.k.a malicious software) infecting your computer or any other devices with a code, locking your device, or encrypting your files (making them unreadable for you). After your device is infected, the cybercriminals will demand you to pay a ransom (that’s why it is called “ransomware”) to give you access to your own data. Ransomware can affect a single file, a PC, an entire network, and even a server. Imagine what a headache is losing access to your own data. No double, triple, quadruple it multiple times for the companies.
A ransomware attack is a complete nightmare especially for companies dealing with large databases (for example in finance and healthcare industries) as hackers threaten to sell that data unless the ransom is paid. Will the cybercriminals keep their word? Not obvious at all: many companies asserted that the criminals have published the data, even after the “deal” was made.
Any device can be infected, ransomware attacks can cause downtimes, compromise your clients’ data and as a result, affect your company’s reputation. It’s not surprising, that ransomware is considered one of the biggest cybersecurity threats.
There are several ways to “catching” ransomware, and it is important to be aware of all of them.
Ransomware is spread through:
· Phishing e-mails — such e-mails contain malicious files (word, pdf) or links to malicious websites. This is the most popular method: researches show that 65% of ransomware is delivered via phishing e-mails.
· Social media — similarly to spammy e-mails, the encrypted files or malicious links can be sent through instant messaging apps.
· Fake websites — often hackers misspell the address of the website to fool the users. If you enter such a website, your computer can catch malware. How does it work? The cybercriminals usually change one or two letters, so the fake site name looks similar to the original one. For example, they can replace “g” with “q”, “i” with ”I”, letter “o” with number “0”, etc.
· Drive-by downloading — it occurs when you visit a website infected by malware and it’s downloaded into your device automatically (even if you didn’t click anywhere) and infects the endpoint. Of course, this happens mostly on fake websites, but it’s not necessary at all: the hackers can insert the malware script on any website (for example, they often compromise video streaming portals)
· Malvertising (a.k.a. malicious advertising) — as the name implies, it is malicious online advertising (online advertising infected with malware, mostly ransomware). Such advertising can appear on any reputable website and can infect your computer even without your interaction (drive-by-download). Even the sites with strict advertising criteria are at risk (the criminals can start with good ads, and then switch them to ads delivering ransomware).
· Dangerous Pop-Ups — there are different types of such pop-ups, for example, pop-up ads containing malware, fake pop-up messages “warning” you that your computer is infected with ransomware (in reality it is not, but they keep bombarding you), fake pop-ups inserted by criminals on reputable sites and requiring people to share their personal data (for example on banking sites).
Ransomware dates back to the 1980s. It all started from an infected floppy disk: the first ransomware, AIDS Trojan (a.k.a. PC Cyborg) was spread among thousands of healthcare professionals. It was quite easy to beat, but it clearly became a catalyst for future events. During the next decades, ransomware developed massively (especially starting from the 2000s) creating havoc in hundreds of thousands of companies all over the world.
2020 was unprecedentedly successful for ransomware attackers. How cyber-criminals took advantage of Covid-19 pandemics?
· With millions of employees forced to shift to work-from-home because of lockdowns, cyber-criminals used the opportunity to attack vulnerable networks.
· The cyber-criminals targeted mostly the industries dealing with large amounts of personal data (especially in pandemic period): government, banking, manufacturing, healthcare, etc.
· The criminals kept sending phishing e-mails with content related to Covid-19. Such e-mails are real-looking and include the hottest topics: scams associated with economic impact payments, free downloads of conferencing platforms, any information concerning COVID-19 (vaccines, sanitizers, masks, etc.). They are mostly targeting anxious users, who will click the malicious links or will download malicious files.
· Cyber-criminals aim to make you enter infected websites offering COVID-19 information. Either they build sites on “covid19” or “coronavirus” related domains, or hack such legitimate sites and infect them with ransomware.
As a result, ransomware became especially nasty, and successful ransomware attacks have grown drastically in 2020.
· In March 2020, ransomware attacks increased by 148% over February 2020, due to COVID-19. The financial sector was especially affected (52% of ransomware attacks )
· In Q3 2020, global ransomware attacks have grown by 40% (199.7 million cases); the US saw a 139% ransomware growth (145.2 million cases)
· Ryuk ransomware (5,123 attacks in Q3 2019), has grown to 67.3 million in Q3 2020. This is one of the most popular types of attacks (33.7% of global ransomware attacks in 2020)
· In 2020, new organizations fell victim to ransomware attacks every 10 seconds. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that in 2021 there will be ransomware attacks on businesses every 5 seconds.
· In 2020, cybercriminals got approximately $370 million from known ransomware profits (which means 336% increase compared to 2019)
· Ransomware costs are predicted to cost $20 billion in 2021 (57 times more than in 2015).
As we can see, ransomware is definitely the fastest-growing type of cybercrime, and it’s not planning to go anywhere in 2021. Moreover, the more successful and profitable the ransomware “business” becomes, the more new ransomware criminals emerge (and they are using more and more sophisticated approaches).
What to do if your device is already infected by ransomware? First of all, never pay the ransom! As announced by the FBI, paying a ransom is a bad idea, primarily because even if you pay, there’s no guarantee that criminals will unlock your device/files; or they may give you access to your files, but publish the data anyway.
Getting rid of ransomware often requires serious technical skills, time, and money. According to cybersecurity experts, to protect from ransomware, you must… prevent it.
· Back up your data regularly. You can use highly protected cloud storage or an external hard drive (disconnected from the computer after each backup)
· Regularly update and patch your software/systems to close them for attackers. Enabling automatic updating is a good idea.
· Use strong passwords, update them regularly, use two-factor authentication when possible.
· Never click untrusted, suspicious links, e-mails, attachments, pop-ups. Stay vigilant while opening any site (read carefully the URLs).
· Stay tuned, educate yourself (as well as your employees, end-users), learn how to detect fake websites, phishing e-mails, etc. Make security your company’s second nature, organize cybersecurity awareness training to fully cover the topic (investing in Cybersecurity Awareness is a must, especially if you have a big company dealing with lots of personal data.)
· Never disclose your personal data (contact details, banking information, etc.) without carefully verifying the sources asking for such information.
· Use email protection systems to prevent ransomware attacks (this will reduce the criminals’ chances)
· Invest in cybersecurity software blocking ransomware. With the sophisticated techniques used by cyber-criminals today, using perimeter cybersecurity products is not enough. Remember that the ransomware criminals aim to lock your data, this means you should always stay at least one step ahead of them: make your data unreadable and useless for the criminals…even if it’s breached!
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