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What are Ransomware Attacks and How can they be Prevented?

  • Ashesh Anand
  • Jul 13, 2022
What are Ransomware Attacks and How can they be Prevented? title banner

In 2021 and 2022, ransomware generated significant news coverage. You may have heard tales of assaults on significant businesses, organizations, or governmental bodies, or you may have personally been the victim of a ransomware attack on your own device. 


Having all of your files and data kept hostage until you pay up is a serious issue and a terrifying thought. Read on to discover about the ransomware, how to obtain it, where it comes from, who it targets, and what you can do to defend against it if you want to learn more about this menace.


What is Ransomware?


Malware called ransomware is made to prevent a user or business from accessing files on a computer. Cyberattackers put businesses in a situation where paying the ransom is the quickest and least expensive option to recover access to their files by encrypting these files and requesting a ransom payment for the decryption key. 


To further entice ransomware victims to pay the ransom, several variants have included further functionality, such as data stealing. The most noticeable and well-known form of malware is now ransomware. 


Recent ransomware attacks have seriously hurt a number of enterprises, paralysed public services in cities, and affected hospitals' capacity to deliver essential services.


How does Ransomware Function?


Asymmetric encryption is used by ransomware. A pair of keys are used in this type of cryptography to both encrypt and decode a file. The attacker generates a unique public-private key pair for the victim, with the private key being used to decrypt files kept on the attacker's server. 


As evidenced by recent ransomware attacks, it's not always the case that the attacker makes the victim's private key public before the ransom is paid. It is nearly hard to decode the files that are being held for ransom without the private key.


Ransomware comes in a variety of forms. Frequently, email spam campaigns or targeted attacks are used to spread ransomware (and other malware). To establish its presence on an endpoint, malware needs an attack vector. Once its presence is confirmed, malware remains on the system until its purpose is served.


A malicious binary is dropped and run by ransomware on the compromised machine following a successful exploit. Then, this programme finds and encrypts valuable information, including databases, pictures, and Microsoft Word documents. In order to spread to additional systems and perhaps to entire businesses, the ransomware may also take use of network and system flaws. 


Once data has been encrypted, ransomware notifies the user that they must pay a ransom within 24 to 48 hours in order to unlock the files; otherwise, the files would be permanently lost. The victim is forced to pay the ransom to restore personal files if a data backup is not accessible or if those backups are also encrypted.


Why is the Ransomware Threat Increasing?


Threat actors' use of phishing has increased as more people work from home. The main entry point for ransomware infection is phishing. The employees who get the phishing email are both high- and low-privileged users. Attackers can easily transmit ransomware using email because it is inexpensive and simple to use.


Users have no qualms about viewing a file attached to an email because documents are frequently sent over email. When the malicious macro is activated, ransomware is downloaded to the local device before the payload is delivered. Ransomware is a frequent malware threat because it is simple to disseminate over email.


Attacks by Ransomware


A ransomware assault is carried out in what specific ways by threat actors? They must first obtain access to a computer or network. They can use the virus required to encrypt or lock up your device and data if they have access, which they do. Ransomware can attack your computer in a number of different ways.


Also Read | What is Targeted Ransomware?


How do Ransomware Attacks take place?


  1. Malspam


Some threat actors employ spam to acquire access by sending emails with malicious attachments to as many recipients as they can, then watching to see who opens the attachment and "takes the bait," as it were. 


Unwanted email used to spread malware is referred to as malicious spam, or malspam. The email could have malicious attachments like Word or PDF files. Links to malicious websites may also be present.


  1. Malvertising


Malvertising is a common technique of infection. The use of online advertising to spread malware with little to no user engagement is known as malvertising, or malicious advertising. 


Users can be taken to malicious servers when browsing the internet, even on sites that are legitimate, without ever clicking on an advertisement. These servers compile information about target machines and their locations before choosing the virus that will do the job the best. This malware is frequently ransomware. 


Malvertising frequently carries out its operations through an infected iframe, or unseen webpage element. The iframe redirects to an exploit landing page, and from there, malicious malware uses an exploit kit to attack the system. Drive-by downloads are often used to describe situations like these because they take place without the user's knowledge.


  1. Spear Phishing


A ransomware assault can be more precisely targeted using spear phishing. An illustration of spear phishing would be sending emails to workers at a certain organization with the false claim that the CEO is requesting that you complete a crucial employee survey or that the HR department wants you to download and review a new policy. 


Such strategies aimed at top-level decision-makers in a business, such as the CEO or other executives, are referred to as "whaling." Malspam, malvertising, and spear phishing all have components of social engineering and frequently do. 


Threat actors may utilize social engineering to appear legitimate, such as by pretending to be from a reputable organization or a friend, in order to fool users into opening attachments or clicking on links. Other ransomware assaults by cybercriminals employ social engineering techniques, such as impersonating the FBI to intimidate victims into paying a ransom to access their files. 


Another instance of social engineering would be if a threat actor obtained details about your interests, frequent destinations, employment, etc., from your public social media profiles and used some of that information to send you a message that appeared to be from a familiar source in the hopes that you would click before you realized it wasn't real.


How Can I Prevent Ransomware?


  1. Apply recommended practices


A ransomware attack's cost and damage can be significantly reduced with adequate planning. Adopting the best practises listed below can lessen an organization's vulnerability to ransomware and lessen its effects.


  1. Cyber Awareness Education and Training


Phishing emails are frequently used to distribute ransomware. It is essential to educate people on how to recognise and prevent possible ransomware attacks. 


User education is frequently seen as one of the most crucial defences a company can employ, as many current cyber-attacks begin with a targeted email that does not even contain malware but merely a socially-engineered message that tempts the user to click on a harmful link.


  1. Constant Data Backups


According to the definition of ransomware, this type of virus encrypts data and prevents access without paying a ransom. A company can recover from an assault with little to no data loss and without having to pay a ransom thanks to automated, protected data backups. 


A crucial procedure for preventing data loss and ensuring data recovery in the case of corruption or disc hardware failure is maintaining regular backups of data. Organizations can recover from ransomware attacks with the use of functional backups.


  1. Patching


Patching is an essential part of preventing ransomware attacks since hackers frequently scan the released patches for the most recently discovered exploits before launching assaults on unpatched systems. 


Because fewer possible vulnerabilities exist within the company for an attacker to exploit, it is crucial that firms make sure all systems have the most recent fixes applied to them.


  1. User Authentication


Ransomware attackers frequently utilize stolen user credentials to access services like RDP. Strong user authentication can make it more difficult for an attacker to use a password that has been guessed or stolen.


Also Read | What are Encrypting Viruses?


How to Prevent a Ransomware Infection that is Active


Many successful ransomware attacks are not discovered until after the data has been encrypted and a ransom notice has shown on the screen of the affected computer. The encrypted files are probably beyond saving at this time, however the following actions must be taken to prevent an active Ransomware infection :


  1. Put the Device in Quarantine


Certain ransomware variations will attempt to spread to linked drives and other computers. By blocking access to further possible targets, you can stop the infection from spreading.


  1. Continue Using the Computer


A computer may become unstable if files are encrypted, and losing volatile memory when a computer is turned off can happen. To increase the likelihood of recovery, keep the computer running.


  1. Construct a Backup


For some ransomware strains, decrypting files is achievable without paying the demanded ransom. Create a backup of any encrypted files on a portable drive in case a fix is discovered down the road or the files are damaged during an unsuccessful decryption attempt.


  1. Examine Decryptors


Find out if a free decryptor is available by contacting the No More Ransom Project. If so, try using it to restore the files on a copy of the encrypted data.


  1. Request Aid


Sometimes backup copies of files stored on computers are kept there. If the copies haven't been erased by the infection, a digital forensics specialist might be able to recover them.


  1. Wipe and restore


Restore the computer using a fresh installation of the operating system or backup. By doing this, you may be sure that the computer is free of malware.


Also Read | Cyber Security Awareness: Ways to Protect Cyber Attack Vulnerability


Ransomware poses a serious threat to both individual users and businesses in all of its forms and variations. Because of this, it is even more crucial to monitor the threat it poses and to be ready for anything. 


Therefore, it is crucial to educate yourself on ransomware, take extreme caution when using technology, and install the finest protection software.

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