What is ransomware, its kinds, and its responses – Here is a comprehensive guide
With the progressing digital transformation, businesses of all sizes are challenged by an abundance of ransomware attacks. Ransomware attacks cause exposure of critical assets, loss of data, or sensitive information. It is the need of the hour to stay vigilant about these cyber security threats. Here is a comprehensive guide to ransomware and its types.
What Is Ransomware?
- Ransomware is a type of malware attack in which the attackers prevent the victims from using their devices and data. They typically do so by encryption of data on a user’s device. There are different ways by which attackers spread such threats including malicious email attachments, infected software apps, and compromised websites.
To regain access to their computers, the victims are made to pay the ransom often in the form of virtual currency. The attackers are continuously refining their payloads and related activities. The cost of ransomware damage is expected to reach above 200 billion dollars by 2031, as predicted by Cybersecurity Ventures.
Types Of Ransomware
Attackers use multiple types of ransomware to extort ransom from the victims including:
- This is a traditional type of ransomware that works by blocking access to the computers. A payment is then demanded to unlock the victim’s computer.
- In crypto attacks, files on a victim’s computer are encrypted. Attackers then demand payment for handing over the decryption key.
- Double extortion is a newer type of ransomware in which cyber criminals demand two payments. One payment for decrypting the victim’s file and another for not making the data public.
Ransomware As A Service (Raas)
- Raas is a popularly used subscription-based model. In this attack affiliates or users pay to initiate ransomware attacks that are developed by operators.
Attackers use the following common vectors to infiltrate organizations.
- Phishing is one of the popular techniques used by cybercriminals to deliver their payload. Malware is embedded in email and victims are misled into opening an email. Personal data such as bank account details or social security numbers are obtained from the users. Usually, lower-level employees and vulnerable accounts are targeted.
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)
- RDP is the most popular initial ransomware attack vector used by cybercriminals to inject malware. RDP or remote desktop protocol is Microsoft’s proprietary protocol which enables secure remote access to servers. Attackers find loopholes in the RDP environment to gain access through credential stuffing and other such means.
Vulnerabilities Associated With Poor Patching Practices
- Attackers are on the lookout for vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Unpatched systems provide an attractive entryway to these attackers. Websites and complex software environments that link to third parties allow malware to be introduced without being noticed.
Top Ransomware Targets
Ransomware attackers do not spare any organization. However, some institutions are more susceptible to ransomware attacks than others. For example, educational institutions suffered the most from these attacks. Here are some of the top targets of ransomware attackers:
- Education Institutions
- Retail and Manufacturing
- Business Organizations
- Legal services
- Central government
- IT industry
- Utility infrastructure
- Healthcare industry
- Local government
- Financial services
The size of the organization is not always the determining factor for these attacks. Ransomware attackers target an organization or institute from where they can extract the maximum sum. With the development in technology, ransomware attacks are increasing day by day. It is therefore important for business organizations to understand the nature and type of these attacks. This helps them prepare and address these attacks efficiently.
Steps Involved In Ransomware Attack
Let’s discuss the steps through which the attackers execute a typical ransomware attack.
Step 1: Research
- Attackers begin by researching the best platforms they can target. They gather all the useful and accessible information regarding their potential target. Then, they use social media platforms and company websites to find the required information. By doing so, they make themselves appear as legitimate as possible.
Step 2: Landing
- Landing is the process in which ransomware finds and attacks its victim. Phishing emails are the most common way a vast majority of ransomware attacks land.
- Cybercriminals use phishing to obtain personal data such as bank account details or social security numbers from users. The attackers pretend to be a trusted entity and mislead the victims into opening an email. To appear more genuine, cybercriminals sometimes add pictures and trademarks with emails.
Usually, lower-level employees and vulnerable accounts are targeted. Phishing emails can be sent as natural, legitimate-looking targeted login forms and questionnaires. Once you fill information in these forms or questionnaires, that is when the attackers land.
Step 3: Exploring
- Once the ransomware lands successfully, it explores the file system without the victim’s knowledge. Various probing APIs are used by the ransomware attackers to obtain what is available in their victim’s system.
Probing is often done by hand since the attackers have already gained access. Attackers look for backups and copies of the important files on the victim’s system. These files are then locked down to make sure that the victim has no choice but to pay the ransom.
Step 4: Locking
- Locking is the process in which the ransomware attackers block down the victim’s access to the files and hardware. These files are only released when the victim pays the required ransom. Any important data found on the target’s system is encrypted, so the victims can’t access it without the decryption key.
Sometimes the attackers keep the data even after receiving the payment. Ransomware attacks are highly dangerous because once the virus takes hold of the host’s system, it is challenging to get rid of it.
Responding To And Recovering From A Ransomware Attack
- Organizations should create and test the ransomware incident response plan well ahead of the attack. So that once the attack happens, the plan can be initiated and followed. Removing the ransomware can be highly challenging. However, it should be ensured that the malware does not penetrate further into the system.
Here are some tips that should be followed for ransomware removal:
- First, start by isolating the infected device.
- Identifying the type of ransomware is important so that a more targeted remediation plan can be implemented.
The removal of ransomware involves:
- Checking if the malware has been deleted.
- Quarantining the malware using anti-malware software.
- Taking help from external security professionals.
- Removing the malware manually.
Once you have successfully removed the malware, restore the previous version of the operating system and recover the system.
Ransomware detection and removal tools can be used for automating or speeding up the recovery time. These tools work by deleting the malware from a device to ensure it is clean.
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