Ransomware is one of the most dangerous malware programs. It was always in the news in the last decade, and this decade seems no different. Many big organizations have become a victim of Ransomware attacks, causing them millions of loss. Read on this detailed post to know everything about it.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is one of the types of malware that can lock every file and documents on your hard disk with a robust encryption algorithm, and then the attacker behind it would ask for the ‘ransom’ in return for a decrypting tool or key.
A ransomware attack is considered one of the most devastating malicious attacks because it is practically impossible to reverse its effect without paying the ransom to the developer behind it. There are no sure working tools that would unlock your encrypted files. In fact, in some cases, trying to decrypt the files might leads to a permanent loss.
The first-ever Ransomware was developed by biologist Dr. Joseph Popp in the year 1989. It was named AIDS Trojan, aka PC Cyborg. The objective of Dr. Popp was to spread AIDS trojan through Floppy Disk to attendees of the WHO AIDS conference. The trojan was designed to encrypt the files in the C drive to make the PC unusable. After locking the files, it asks users to renew the license and pay $189 to PC Cyborg Corporation as a ransom in a post office located in Panama. However, this first-ever Ransomware was a total failure as it only encrypts the filename, and the decrypting key can be easily discovered in the codes of the malware.
Even though the PC Cyborg was a failure, it announced the arrival of a new, devastating malware type, Ransomware. The black hat developers started to build Ransomware programs with stronger encryption to infect PC. However, to tackle that, the cybersecurity experts created decryptors and released them on public platforms. This encouraged the cyberattackers to build even more robust malware for encryption. Today, most Ransomware programs are coded in such a way that the files encrypted by them cannot be decrypted by the publicly available decryptors. That means most Ransomware now has a unique decrypting key or tool.
Why have Ransomware attacks suddenly grown?
Even after advancements in security technology and users becoming more and more aware of the method of cybercrimes, Ransomware and other malicious attacks are always on a high. There are many factors responsible for that.
With the new developments in cybersecurity, cybercriminals are also making themselves updated and getting skilled to penetrate the advanced shields. Another major reason for the rise of Ransomware attacks in recent times is because the internet is making it easy to get digital payments anonymously. With the rise of cryptocurrencies, most Ransomware developers are now taking ransom in the form of Bitcoin or other popular cryptos. In fact, according to Statista, the highest number of Ransomware cases ever in a year was in 2016, when Bitcoin started to gain popularity.
Cyber attackers are taking ransom in the form of crypto because legal authorities and government have no control over such currencies, especially Bitcoin. When you initiate a crypto transaction, there is no central authority to monitor it. You can easily transfer the required amount from one wallet to another without even logging in. What more a criminal wants?
But why is Bitcoin in more demand than any other digital currency? It is simply because of the popularity and rise of Bitcoin’s price. Compared to any other crypto coin, Bitcoin is the highest-priced and is accepted in many digital transactions.
How do I get Ransomware?
Ransomware can infiltrate your devices in various ways. Although people are becoming more and more informed about the tricks used by the infiltrators, human error is one of the primary causes of malware infection on a computer or other gadgets. Here are the common ways through which users are deceived and malware programs are injected into their system:
Spam emails are one of the most common ways to spread malware programs or malicious links. Such emails are cleverly framed so that receivers think they are from the trusted sources like friends, school/college, or any legit organizations and click on the email’s link and download attachments. Since these are malicious spam, such emails are also known as Malspam.
Social Engineering Attacks
Social Engineering is one of the oldest and most popular tricks to fool users into providing sensitive information and downloading malicious programs. In this, users are victimized by sending fake emails, calls, or texts to create a sense of fear, urgency, or greed. For example, the attacker can send you a specially designed email pretending from Microsoft asking you to download and install the attached program to save your computer from a major data breach. In anticipation of securing your data, you might hurriedly install that program on your device. In reality, that application could be anything like Ransomware or another malware.
Getting application from Unknown Sources
Many PC users have a tendency to anyhow get the paid software for free or at a lower price. This is because most users might need paid software just for one of their works, and they don’t want to spend much on the software they might not even use again. So, in search of the free or lower-priced application, many users navigate to suspicious sites and torrents where they download the infected programs, thinking of them as legitimate ones. Those infected programs can introduce Ransomware and other malware on installation.
In recent years, Malvertising has become a popular way to quickly spread malware programs like Trojans, Ransomware, Spyware, and others. Malvertising is short for Malware Advertising. In this, cyber attackers use online advertisements to spread their malicious programs. They lure users into clicking on infected ads by creating intriguing headlines like “Click here to get a free trip to Australia,” and similar. The reason cybercriminals are switching to Malvertising is that it does not require much skills and effort, and additionally, even legitimate websites can display malware ads on their platform. This adds extra authenticity to those ads.
How does Ransomware works?
The most challenging part for any malware program to work is getting access to the system. The same is applicable for Ransomware too. After infiltrating the system using one of the ways mentioned in the previous section, the Ransomware program can now implement its code to fulfill its task. A typical Ransomware application follows these steps for execution:
- The first step is to get installed in the device and access the system files and folders.
- After the successful infiltration, the Ransomware program would execute a malicious binary code in the system. This binary code searches for essential files and folders like documents, images, videos, and others to encrypt them.
- After a file is encrypted, it would be renamed, and an extension will be added. The extension is usually the Ransomware name for example, .DHARMA, .ZEUS, and more.
- Some advanced Ransomware can also exploit the network vulnerabilities to infect other devices on the same network and possibly infecting every computer of the organization and encrypt their files.
- After the encryption process is completed, the Ransomware would notify the victim about it. Generally, it is done by releasing a notepad file, pop-up, or a black screen warning. The note would tell users that their files are encrypted, and to decrypt them, they have to pay a ransom of a certain amount. Typically the amount is asked to be paid through cryptocurrencies. The note further warns the victim that failure to pay the ransom in 24 to 48 hrs might lead to permanent data loss.
- If victims do not have the backup of the data that got encrypted, they would have no other option other than agreeing to pay the required ransom.
How is encryption executed?
Ransomware uses the asymmetric encrypting algorithm to lock the files. It is cryptography that uses the two different keys for encryption and decryption. The private key for decrypting the Ransomware’s encryption is uniquely generated by the attacker for the victim. This key is stored on the attacker’s server and is presented to the victim only if they pay the required ransom. Though some weak encryption can be cracked using the publicly available keys or decryptors, it is generally impossible to decrypt the files without help from the attackers.
Most Damaging Ransomware Attacks
Since the first time ransomware surfaces in 1989, ransomware attacks cause the loss of billions of dollars to several countries. Below is a table that lists the most damaging ransomware attacks.
|Name||Subtype||Duration||Area Affected||OS Affected||Estimated Loss|
|Reveton||Zeus Trojan||Early 2012 to Mid 2013||Europe, US, Canada||Windows||$93640|
|CryptoLocker||Cryptovirus||September 2013 to May 2014||US||Windows||$3 Million|
|TorrentLocker||Cryptovirus||February 2014 to End 2014||Australia, Turkey, Italy,|
|CryptoWall||Zbot||April 2014 to End 2014||US, Canada, Australia||Windows||$18 Million|
|Fusob||TrojanRansom||April 2015 to March 2016||Germany, UK, US||Android||Not Estimated|
|WannaCry||Cryptoworm||Initial 12 to 15 May 2017||All||Windows||$4 Billion|
|Petya||Cryptovirus||March 2016 to July 2017||Europe, US||Windows||$10 Billion|
|Bad Rabbit||Cryptovirus||October 2017||Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria||Windows||Not Estimated|
|SamSam||Ransom.Samas||2016 to 2018||US||Windows||$30 Million|
Most dangerous Ransomware Family
|DirtyDecrypt||It has the ability to encrypt 8 different file formats||Data Encryption and Device Locking||Untraceable||Trojan||Windows|
|CryptoLocker||Fetches the public key from the command and control server for encryption||Data Stealing and Data Encryption||Bitcoin||Trojan||Windows|
|CryptoWall||Payment only through TOR browser||Data Stealing, Data Encryption, Device Locking||Bitcoin||Trojan||Windows|
|Android Defender||First Android encrypting Ransomware||Data Deletion||Premium accounts||Trojan||Android|
How to respond to a Ransomware Attack?
Even after being cautious and following security norms, you might still get attacked by Ransomware. If you find out that Ransomware has locked your essential files and folders, you can respond to it in the following ways:
Isolate the infected device
After detecting the Ransomware attack, the first step is to disconnect it from any network and other connected devices. It is crucial because Ransomware can quickly spread to connected devices or use the network to infect devices connected to it. Isolating the infected machine is even more critical if the attack happened in an organization. Since most PCs are interconnected with each other in big organizations, malware infection to even a single device can spread quickly to others connected.
Halt Internet Access
Just disconnecting the infected device from the network and other devices is not enough. You might not know the origin of the attack, so it is better to pause the internet service of the organization and disconnect every device from the network.
Evaluate the Damages
Accessing the damage done by a Ransomware program is not that difficult. Check all your system files and notice whether they are renamed automatically with an unknown extension. It is because after the encryption by Ransomware malware, generally, file names get appended with an extension. Check thoroughly which all files are renamed weirdly. In addition to that, look for a notepad file in the same folder whose all files are infected. Generally, after the encryption, Ransomware releases a note in the form of a notepad file that contains all the details related to the attack and the amount of ransom to be paid.
Locate the Source
To tackle the Ransomware attack, it is essential to identify the patient zero. The best way to do that is by checking alerts by antivirus/antimalware programs. Another way is asking your employees about any suspicious activities on their devices. Since most malware infiltrates systems because of human errors like opening infected links, installing fake software, downloading attachments from unknown emails, and more, it is highly possible that one of your employees might have unintentionally provided the way to the Ransomware to access and attack the device.
Identify the Ransomware
To initiate any type of decrypting process, you need to identify the variant of the Ransomware program that has attacked the device. For that, you can refer to the ransom note released by the Ransomware. If you cannot find the ransom note or if it does not have any information of the Ransomware name, just look at the extension of the encrypted files as most Ransomware just append their name at the end of the encrypted files.
Report the Ransomware
After identifying it, you must report the Ransomware to the authorities so that others can be alerted. Since a Ransomware attack is a crime, reporting it would help legal authorities to take action. Also, cybersecurity officials might also help you negotiate with the attackers or sought some way to unlock your files.
Look for the decrypting options
After identifying the Ransomware, now you can look for the options to decrypt your locked files. Many security application developer companies also provide free decryptors tools and keys. You can try those to unlock your files. Other than that, there is a service known as Know More Ransom. The website has numerous tools to help you decrypt your data, including the Crypto Sheriff tool. You just need to upload one of your encrypted files, and it will scan to find a match.
If you couldn’t decrypt your files using public decryptors or keys, then you can restore the backup if you have any. Before performing a restoration, it is advised to wipe out the encrypted data from the computer entirely so that any malicious file does not affect the newly restored files. Freshly install the OS and all other applications. If it is not possible for you to wipe out your hard disk or fresh install the OS, you must thoroughly scan your computer with a robust antimalware solution before any kind of restoration.
If none of the encrypting methods worked for you and you don’t have any backup for restoration, then, unfortunately, it’s time to move on. Take this experience as a harsh lesson for the future and follow all the security protocols in your new beginnings.
How to Remove Ransomware?
As already mentioned, there is no way you can remove the Ransomware encryption without decrypting tools or keys. But you can stop further encryption by removing the Ransomware program responsible for it. To remove the Ransomware, follow these steps:
- Reboot your computer in the Safe Mode.
- Check for the suspicious and irrelevant programs installed on your device.
- Uninstall all such programs
- Use Malwarefox Antimalware or any other equally good antimalware program to scan for malware programs.
- Restore your system to a previous state when it was working well.
Free Ransomware Decryption Tools
If unfortunately, your system got attacked by ransomware, then you should never go for paying up the ransom. It is because many times, even after paying the ransom amount, the attacker does not provide decrypting tool and asks for more amount.
The best you can do is try the free decrypting tools available online. These tools are developed by reputed security solution providers. Here are a few of them:
- Quick Heal Ransomware Tool
- Emisoft Tools
- Kaspersky Free Ransomware Decryptors
- Avast Ransomware Decryption Tools
- McAfee Ransomware Decryptors
- AVG Ransomware Decryption Tools
- No More Ransom Decryptors
Ransomware Removal Guide
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks?
It is better to prevent Ransomware attacks rather than dealing with their aftermath. Cybersecurity experts believe that prevention is the best protection against Ransomware. To avoid any Ransomware attack happening to you or your organization, follow these measures:
Use robust Security Program
Getting a robust dedicated security program for your machine would ensure a tight security layer between malware programs and computers. Security applications like antimalware or antivirus are specifically designed to detect malicious codes or programs and prevent their infection. If you try to navigate to an infected link or download a suspicious file, the security program might prevent those from happening, thereby eliminating the chance of any malware attack.
If you are confused about which security program to go for, we have an excellent suggestion for you. MalwareFox is reliable security software that promises to protect your system and helps to handle malware and viruses. MalwareFox will scans, detect, and remove Malware and offers real-time protection It also protects your PC from the most dangerous malware such as Ransomware, Zero-Day Attack protection, Grayware, Keyloggers, etc.
Always Backup your Data
Whether you work individually or running an organization, backing up the data is necessary in every case. Backing the data has numerous benefits. It will help you to restore your hard work in case of system failure. If anything goes wrong, the backup will act as your system restore point. If you or your organization regularly backup your data, then in case of a Ransomware attack, there won’t be much impact on your work as restoring the backed-up data would nullify the Ransomware infection. Other than that, it is also essential to secure your backup. Most Ransomware programs are designed to search for backups and destroy them. Ensure that backup is placed at a secured place and restrict it to be modified externally.
Avoid Downloading Software from Unknown Sources
Malicious software programs are one of the most common malware carriers. Users must avoid getting any software programs from unknown third-party sources in greed of getting them for free or at a lower price. This should be avoided at any cost as software downloaded from third-party sources can be infected with malware.
Keep your OS and Apps Updated
Updating the operating system will not only introduce the new features but also update the system with the latest security patch. The computer with the updated security patch will be able to tackle the new possible ransomware programs more conveniently. Similarly, it is also advised to keep all the installed applications updated with the latest version. Updating the applications will fix the security vulnerabilities and reduce the chances of malware attacks.
Use Secured Network
Many users like to connect to the unsecured public Wi-Fis as most of them are free to use. However, people are not aware that these public Wi-Fis are highly unsecured. Any intruder can easily hijack the user session on such networks and conduct illicit activities like introducing Ransomware.
Practice Safe Browsing
The internet has revolutionized everyone’s life with its lots of advantages. However, people need to know that not everything on the internet is good. While browsing, you will find many illicit websites that might tempt you to visit them. Likewise, you will also find intriguing pop-up and banner ads that would offer you “too good to be true” offers. It would be best to always ignore such websites and ads as they are one of the primary sources of malware spread. Always practice safe browsing to eliminate any risk of Ransomware and other malware attacks.
Keep yourself Informed
Knowledge about different Ransomware, how they spread, and their attacking methods will always help you stay protected and even inform and save others from such devastating malware. It is advised to regularly read about the latest happenings in the cybersecurity world and what new Ransowmare are emerging.