Ransomware attacks are not only costly to businesses but also very difficult to deal with. Cyber-security experts predict that the attacks will cost businesses approximately $11 billion in 2020. Unprepared companies and users may lose valuable data and their financial security from ransomware attacks.
With the growing popularity of ransomware attacks, it has been listed among the top five threats. New strains of ransomware are making entry into the cybersecurity field. They mainly target small and medium-sized businesses.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware refers to a type of malware that denies users access to their accounts, computer system, or specific files. The malware requires the user first to pay a certain amount of money as ransom. The malware targets explicitly large business or individuals with a lot to lose.
The attack causes data loss, downtime, and possible theft of intellectual property. The malware comes in a variety of forms, some designed to attack Windows PCs while others infect Macs and other mobile devices. The effectiveness of the software relies on the encryption used, which is practically impossible to break.
The business is only in its early days, but it’s already a successful criminal business model that’s attracting several copycats. Cybercriminals are furiously innovating technical and social engineering malware for their attacks.
If your business has not been affected by the malware yet, it may just be a matter of time. As the danger continues to loom, it’s only essential that you understand how it works and how you can protect yourself.
How Does Ransomware Work?
Generally, these attacks tend to exhibit a similar pattern across the board. Here’s how it happens:
1. Your Files or System Contracts an Infection
Ransomware attacks work pretty much the same way as other viruses. It gains access to your computer through downloading of malicious files. It may also be as a result of phishing, which is a social engineering tactic. The malware tricks you into completing a download that you think is safe or legitimate.
It may also take the form of an exploit kit. This is designed to target vulnerabilities in your exiting software. In so doing, the kit allows the malware to gain backdoor access by bypassing al security restrictions hence gaining unauthorized access to the computer system.
The malware allows hackers to go in and out of your system, monitoring activities without your knowledge. They can get hold of database and file servers, stealing your sensitive information and issuing commands to install more malware.
2. The “Grace” Period
Not all ransomware attacks respond immediately. Some may take a while to take hold of your system, while others cause havoc within seconds of gaining system access. 35% of ransomware victims get a notification for the attack within 24 hours while it took more than a day for 11% of victims to be notified.
At this stage, all your data and files become encrypted, requiring you to decrypt them for access. Depending on the level of encryption, this can be practically impossible, depriving you of al access to your files. A 16-bit or 32-bit encryption is easy and possible to decrypt using ransomware decryption tools.
However, with a 128-bit or 256-bit encryption, it can be quite a challenge to decrypt them. The encryption at this level is so secure since it parallels VPN and browser security.
4. Financial Demand
At this final stage, you’ll get a pop-up message on your screen informing you of the infection. The message comes with a demand for a ransom, which mostly is a figure between $300 and $500. Hackers are careful to ask for amounts that individual victims are likely to have at hand to increase the chances that they’ll pay up. Businesses may part with tens of thousands of dollars.
The ransomware message may also mimic local authorities. It may claim that you’ve acted illegally or accessed banned content and you’re being fined for that. Hackers often use county police or government logos to make it look more authentic.
The hackers demand ransom in the form of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin because they are difficult to track.
Why are Ransomware Attacks on the Rise?
The rise in ransomware attacks, mainly geared towards businesses, can be attributed to two primary factors. One of these factors is the current Bitcoin price crash. Malware authors had put all their efforts into crypto mining. This, to them, was more lucrative and required less attempt to steal Bitcoins from victims than to demand a ransom.
However, Bitcoin hit its peak value in December 2017, standing at $20,000. This value came tumbling down at the beginning of 2019, standing at $4,000. Between the peak of Bitcoin prices and its decline, security professionals put a lot of effort into preventing crypto-mining.
With these measures in place, ransomware authors had no choice but to go back to their original ransomware attacks.
The second factor that has contributed to the rise of ransomware attacks is the emboldening of ransomware authors. One case that spiraled the increase in ransomware attacks is the WannaCry attack. It proved beyond every reasonable doubt that ransomware attacks are very useful when implemented on a grand scale.
A bulk of healthcare companies were most affected by the attack, although it wants limited to the healthcare industries. Apple chipmaker TSMC is among the other companies that were affected. It had to put a hold on its operations after the Wannacry infection. Total losses from the attack were approximately more than $250 million.
The attack was a game-changer for malware authors as it was the first of the large-scale attacks designed to cause massive financial damage on businesses. It formed a basis on which other malware authors would create similarly devastating ransomware.
Why Is Ransomware a Lucrative Business?
The losses that result from ransomware attacks don’t’ directly correlate to the ransoms the victims pay. The losses encompass other things like data recovery efforts, lost sales, and the cost of making cyber defenses more efficient. These costs show the ransomware authors the value of enterprise data and the willingness of organizations to invest in protecting and recovering that data.
Ransomware authors hence know that they stand a good chance of making money if they can demand an affordable ransom. When a business weighs between parting with the money and suffering an outage, they'd rather pay the ransom. 25% of business executives report that they’d be willing to pay anything between $20,000 and $50,000 to recover their data.
The ransomware industry is projected to generate revenue of approximately $1 billion this year. With such a lucrative amount, the authors will keep targeting businesses for the foreseeable future. As such, it's imperative that companies implement reliable safeguards, create regular backups, and educate their teams on how best to avoid triggering ransomware attacks.
How to Protect Yourself from Ransomware
It’s undoubtedly clear that malware authors are making money out of ransomware attacks. Their efforts to target more businesses mean that there are still loopholes that security experts are yet to seal. Merely knowing this won't help you if you don't take the necessary measures to protect yourself. Recovering from a ransomware attack is a more significant challenge than taking the required steps to prevent it. Here's what you can do.
1. Regular Backups
Getting back your files without paying a ransom is a big challenge. Performing regular backups is the only tactic that’ll help you restore your data after the attack. You’ll be able to retrieve the backed up data from a time before the attack happened.
2. Software Updates
Ransomware is designed to exploit security hole to allow it access to your device. You can prevent this from happening by updating your systems and software regularly. Software manufacturers release new versions regularly to patch known vulnerabilities.
Staying up-to-date with the new versions will drastically improve your security.
3. Avoid Clicking on Unfamiliar Links
Phishing is one of the typical distribution channels of ransomware. You can avoid falling victim to social engineering tactics by being familiar with the signs. Be wary of fake URLs, unfamiliar pop-ups, and unexplained email attachments.
Avoid clicking on banner ads that look like “deals” and be on the lookout for unrealistic claims and fraudulent emails. Only stick to trusted online sources, including websites, emails, commerce sites, and emails.
4. Use Powerful Antivirus
Security experts have come up with top-quality antivirus suites essential for combating ransomware. A reliable antivirus will alert you as soon as they detect a problem so that you can remove the infection as soon as possible.
The best antivirus toolkit keeps a catalog of all known threats which makes it easy to identify ransomware quickly and efficiently. Some types of antivirus software provide a free ransomware decryption tool for low-level encryption.
While it may feel like too much work investing in computer and system security, dealing with the effects of a ransomware attack is more costly and time-consuming.
Cybersecurity is a buzzword in the modern technological era. Among the biggest threats of cybercrime are ransomware attacks. These have been reported to result in multi-billion losses for individuals and businesses combined.
You can protect yourself from ransomware attacks by investing in protective measures. Ensure that you’re regularly backing up your data, updating your software, and using powerful antivirus. Consult with security experts if you’re unsure of the safest measures to take.