How would you feel if you powered on your laptop or computer for an important presentation and got an access denied message on the screen? Even if you haven’t experienced that, it doesn’t mean it is impossible.
Over 2200 ransomware attacks occur daily, and over 80,000 people are affected yearly. You could be one of them.
However, following some preventive measures discussed in this article can prevent getting into trouble due to ransomware attacks. So, let’s start with what ransomware is, how it can make your data inaccessible and how to prevent ransomeware.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware in which the attacker gets into the victim’s device and makes the data stored on the device inaccessible. When the victim tries to gain access back, the attacker demands a ransom in the form of money. The attacker encrypts the files stored on the device, and the easiest way to get them back is to get the decryption key by paying ransomware.
The first case of a ransomware attack was reported in 1989 when $189 was received as ransom. The ransomware was distributed through floppy disks. Recently, the biggest ransomware attack was reported in Baltimore in 2019, when $18 million were paid as ransom.
To prevent your files from ransomware attacks and avoid losing your hard-earned money to cyber attackers, it is important to understand how ransomware works.
How Do Ransomware Attackers Access Users’ Data?
The ransomware attack has multiple stages according to how the cyber attacker has packaged the software. Though the source of infection is different, the purpose is the same:
- Getting access to users’ data.
- Encrypting data as much as possible.
- Making ransom demands.
Infection Of Malicious Software
At first, attackers send the malware to the victim’s device through emails, floppy discs, or faulty and suspicious websites. Malware is attached to the files, and a phishing strategy is sent to the victim’s device. Once it enters the device, the ransom replicates itself to get into other computers connected to the internet or files on the same computers.
Security Key Deliverance
The malware, after infection, reaches the attackers and lets them know that their files have reached the target device and need encryption and a cryptogenic key to lock the files from victims’ access.
At this stage, the malware encrypts the files on the device, beginning with one of the local disks, and then tries to probe the user’s network from open shares or mapped shares, like crypto wall ransomware, erasing the Volume Shadow Copy files that made the restoration from backup difficult and stealing from Bitcoin wallets easier. Similarly, Wannacry ransomware used the Eternal Blue vulnerability to transfer it to other computers connected to the network and then performed encryption.
The ransom alert is displayed to the victim as the attacker sends them the ransom note. Mostly, a dollar figure is attached to messages like “If you don’t pay the ransom, your sensitive data will get stolen” or something similar.
With time ransom attacking is becoming an attractive profession, due to which attackers’ activity is difficult to quantify. However, the occurrence of attacks indicates that these techniques will develop further.
Most of the attackers have given data exposure threats as extortion messages. It works because ransomware can encrypt and exfiltrate data back to the attacker.
The only way to get rid of a ransomware attack and get the data back is to pay the ransomware. However, in most cases, it has been reported that the attacker doesn’t deliver what was promised after taking money.
In the Baltimore ransom attack, the ransom was not paid, and the attacker didn’t deliver the key, but the IT professionals tried to rebuild the data they could. The recovery also involves mitigating the threat of data release; no one can prevent the attacker from exposing data.
Therefore, it is best to protect against ransomware attacks rather than get in trouble.
Common Examples Of Ransomware
Ransomware attacks have multiple targets. From individuals to large companies, everyone can become its prey. It locks up databases, images, files, and documents to create breaches or expose sensitive and private information.
Four types of ransomware are reported:
Encryption is the most noted type of ransomware. It infects by encrypting the data and making it unable to access without having a decryption key.
Lockers block the entire device, making it fail to work without paying the ransom and regaining access.
Scareware enters the computer and displays ads to the user pretending that buying them is necessary. They appear on the screens as pop-up ads that fill the screen and force the users to pay the ransom and remove them.
Leakware is the ransomware that threatens the company and pretends to have sensitive information that would be leaked unless the ransom is paid.
When Do You Become Vulnerable To Ransomware Attacks?
Ransomware attacks are prominent in places with critical infrastructure, private companies, and companies with sensitive information. Many factors leave them a target to the attacker.
Outdated Software And Equipment
Companies that use outdated software and equipment are more likely to have security breaches. The legacy infrastructure is merged with the rest of the structure, which increases the likelihood of malware installation in the concerned devices.
Unpatched Operating Systems
The most favorite places for hackers to get in are the unpatched operating systems and software. Companies that don’t have patch management procedures fail to get security updates and cannot function to keep their volatile information safe in the long run.
No Backup Files
Individuals with no backup plans are more likely to pay the price literally and figuratively. You might not need to pay ransom to the attacker if you already have backup files. Who cares about the data loss if you have it stored on a drive or other sources?
No Understanding Of Cyber Threats
The lack of comprehensive cybersecurity practices and understanding makes it impossible to protect against ransomware. Thinking it cannot happen to you can make you more vulnerable to the attack.
How To Prevent Ransomware Attacks?
Recovering from a ransom attack is much more difficult than protecting against it. You don’t know which type of malware has been inserted into your computer and how to get its unencrypted version in case of attack. Instead of paying the ransom, stopping ransomware can make life easy. So, practice the following protective measures at the first line before the attack occurs:
Backups are files and images of your data stored on a device. When ransomware attacks occur, your access to data is blocked, and you are asked to pay a handsome amount to gain access.
Keeping data backups helps you prevent paying the ransom. It doesn’t prevent ransomware attacks but can help you get rid of the encrypted files and restore them from back up again to get back access. Therefore, you should maintain data backups on your device to eliminate ransomware threats.
Keep System Up To Date
Keeping the operating system updated is the best way to avoid data breaches and ransomware infections. Security vulnerabilities occur when you use outdated software or operating systems and security protocols that lack the latest security patches. Such systems are more prone to ransomware attacks than updated systems with proper data security.
Use Authorized Download Sources
Downloading software and applications from unauthorized download sources enhance the ransomware attacks probability. The malicious links contain malware strains installed on your device when you visit them. You fall prey to data hostage, and your infected systems become the reason for ransomware attacks.
Only use authorized sources and links to download media, applications, and files. Links that appear suspicious may have several ransomware variants that threaten your data. Moreover, avoid clicking on the ads on your screen when you browse online because they can be malicious actors.
Don’t Reply Or Open Malicious Emails
Suspicious email attachments should never be opened or tried to reply to because they might contain malware. Once you click on an email like this, it blocks access to your data without allowing you to restore data. Email security is necessary to keep your data safe from the entry of malicious code and prevent ransomware. Don’t open emails in the spam section to avoid breaches.
Don’t Use USB Sticks
USBs are the biggest way to carry malicious code from one computer to another. Even if you have anti-malware or virus security software installed on your device, you should still not use USB sticks from unauthorized sources. Transfer your data hygienically through drives or emails to prevent ransomware attacks.
Use VPN On Public WiFi
Always use the internet through a private network. Public WiFi has many computers or mobiles connected to it. If one contains malicious code, it is transferred to all devices connected to the network. So, don’t use open networks. If you have to use them, download VPN and then connect for network access.
Perform Ransomware Detection
Install anti-ransomware software for ultimate ransomware protection and save your important data. Security professionals design this software to detect the ransomware before the attacker locks your data and you ask them for the encryption key.
Get Security Awareness Training
Security awareness training is necessary to avoid ransomware infection, and it becomes obligatory when you own a company with sensitive data. Security experts can help you gain knowledge about security solutions that you can use to protect your business-critical data. Practice employee awareness to avoid future attacks and incident response to threat detection.
Practice Good Cyber Hygiene
Good cyber hygiene is important to protect yourself from malicious attacks, data losses, and ransomware payments. Don’t visit the websites that are potentially the carriers of malicious codes—download software from developer websites or authentic sources that have proven to provide virus protection.
Don’t share malicious links to others when someone asks you to do that and get a reward. Limit your online space and explore data safely to protect yourself and others from paying a lot of money as ransom. Moreover, never click on ads that lead you towards unauthorized sales pages of a company or brand outlets. They may contain ransomware and create breaches in your operating system for stealing data.
Make sure to turn on your VPN before accessing any illegal website because this way, the attacker could not trace your IP addresses and get into your computer to steal data or block your access to it. Moreover, please don’t share your devices like phones and laptops with others who might insert malicious software inside them.
How To Recover From Ransomware?
The best way to recover from a ransomware attack is to restore the data from a backup. However, if you don’t have a backup, you can follow these ways to recover:
- Restore the data and settings on your laptop or computer from the Windows system restore.
- Restore the previous version of Windows to get the data from a specific time back on your device. This may not return all your data, but you can get a fraction back.
- Use Data Recovery software to get the stolen data back.
- Download the ransom decryption tool and try to get rid of the encryption. However, make sure you use a trusted source or website while downloading.
Though recovery is possible, but not in all cases, make sure you follow the methods discussed earlier to prevent a ransomware attack.
Ransomware is malicious software that an attacker uses to enter into the target device to block the user’s access to data and create breaches to demand money to get a decryption key. People who share USBs and use public networks are more susceptible to becoming victims of ransom attacks.
Recovery of the system is more difficult than preventing the attack. Therefore, you should always have a backup of your data. Don’t open suspected email attachments and avoid visiting websites containing many ads as pop-ups covering the screen. Understand your security now and act accordingly.