What is Ransomeware? How it works and ways to prevent it

Cyber security is something that almost every business has to be concerned with; it doesn’t matter if the company is big or small. Protecting your data against cyber attacks is essential for any company. In this article, we are going to explore Ransomware which is the biggest trend of malware nowadays and it continues to disrupt the operations of businesses and the daily lives of individuals all over the world in 2019.

1) What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a malware that prevents users from accessing their system or personal files or data until a ransom is paid. It is similar to other malware that installs itself on a computer and runs in the background without the user’s knowledge. 

Most ransomware variants encrypt the files on the affected computer, making them inaccessible, and demand a ransom payment to restore access. Some simple ransomware locks the system in such a way that it is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, while more advanced malware called cryptographic ransomware, in which it encrypts the victim’s files, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. 

2) How does ransomware infect your computer?

Ransomware continues to grow in both frequency and scope of damage. Hackers are getting sophisticated day by day and no organization seems to be immune to such cyber attacks. Here are the four most common ways ransomware infects victim’s computer:

1) Phishing Emails

2) Remote Desktop Protocol

3) Compromised websites

4) USB and Removable Media

5) Pirated software

3) Ransomware Types

1) CRYPTO Ransomware – 

Crypto ransomware encrypts your files, folders, and Hard disk by strong encryption. Once the ransomware infiltrates the victim’s device, the malware silently identifies and encrypts valuable files. As soon as your computer is infected, the crypto ransomware takes control of all your files, locks up everything with an unbreakable encryption, and asks for a ransom of up to $500 in cryptocurrency or have all your files destroyed. After this, there is no guarantee that the victim will get access to their data back even after paying ransom.  One of the most familiar examples is the destructive 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack. It targeted thousands of computer systems around the world that were running Windows OS and spread itself within corporate networks globally. Victims were asked to pay ransom in Bitcoin to retrieve their data.

2) LOCKERS Ransomware – 

Locker ransomware does not encrypt files. Instead of that, it locks the victim out of their device, preventing them from using it. It’s typically deployed at the operating system (OS) level, meaning you will not be able to use an infected computer or device. When attempting to log in or power up the computer or device, screen locker ransomware will display a pop-up demanding payment. Once the system is locked out, ransomware will leave the victim with very few capabilities such as allowing the victim just to communicate with the attacker and to pay the ransom. 

3) DOXWARE Ransomware – 

Doxware ransomware encrypts your hard disk and ask you to pay some ransom money to get that data decrypted. The word “dox” is an abbreviation for “documents”. It looks similar to crypto ransom, but it is not. The main game is that, if you don’t pay, the attackers will threaten to expose all your personal and private data on the internet. Because of this threatened release, doxware attacks are much harder to avoid than regular ransomware attacks, making them more profitable to hackers. In 2014, Sony Pictures suffered a doxware attack that released private conversations between top producers and executives discussing employees, actors, industry competitors, and future film plans, among other sensitive topics.

4) MOBILE Ransomware – 

Mobile ransomware as name implies is a type of malware that affects mobile devices. This type of ransomware spreads via social engineering trick, disguising itself as a system update or fake links. When any of this operation is performed, ransomware gains access to the android device, encrypts the majority of system files within the smartphone, show a message to pay a ransom. After the payment is processed, the ransomware will send a code to unlock the phone or decrypt the data. A mobile ransomware called “Filecoder.C” is targeting android devices through malicious links in online forums and then it spreads via contact lists through SMS messages that attempt to gain access to device by installing an app, according to research by ESET security.

5) MAC Ransomware –

Mac ransomware is simply ransomware that targets Apple desktops and laptops. It’s true that Mac computers are less likely to be infected than Windows PCs, but they are not any more resistant to malware attacks. In fact, the threat of Mac malware increased by 60{f8327cba7b215700fe83c03a9fb7dd300152dafe9c7ffec0316ab2941e1652f4} in just the last quarter of 2018. FileCoder, Keydnap, KeyRanger are ransomware attacks on Mac.

6) MASTER BOOT RECORD(MBR) Ransomware – 

Master Boot Record (MBR) is a small program that executes every time the computer boots, even before the operating system loads. It is used for the start-up process and has information of bootable partitions. This ransomware infects the Master Boot Record (MBR), preventing the operating system from loading. This malware copies the original MBR and overwrites it with its own malicious code. Right after performing this routine, it automatically restarts the system for the infection to take effect. When the system restarts, the ransomware displays a message to the victim to pay ransom to regain access to the system.

7) RaaS (Ransomware as Service) Ransomware –

Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is based on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. This subscription based malicious model enables even the novice cybercriminal to launch ransomware attacks without much difficulty. You can find various RaaS packages in the market that reduce the need to code malware. As such, it is commonly used by cybercriminals who don’t have much technical knowledge of how to create ransomware.

4) How ransomware works

There are generally five stages required for ransomware to achieve its objective:

1) Gan access in computer – In order to do an attack on a computer, the malicious ransomware file needs to be executed on a targeted computer. Ransomeware gains access to the computer via an email, USB stick, social engineering, by clicking on fake ads, or downloading software from the internet.

2) Take control over the system – Once the ransomware is downloaded it executes the ransomware program and takes control over the system.

3) File Encryption – After malware has taken control of the system, it encrypts your data, adds an extension to your files and makes them inaccessible. 

4) Notify victim – The user is notified with a popup with an amount to be paid once the files are encrypted by criminals. At this point, they will usually receive notification on the screen explaining the demands and how they can regain access.

5) Cleanup and access return – In the majority of cases, attackers return full control to the victim once the ransom is paid.

5) How to prevent your system from ransomware
  • Update software and operating systems with the latest patches to ensure you have fewer vulnerabilities to exploit.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in untrusted emails. Email is a popular method hackers use for a ransomware attack.
  • Backup data on a regular basis on cloud or on external devices. Never Never keep a backup in your system itself.
  • Restrict users permissions to install and run software applications, and apply the principle of least privilege to all systems and services.
  • Scan all incoming and outgoing emails to detect threats and filter executable files from reaching end users.
  • Only install software you trust. Keep all other programs and applications up to date.
  • Install antivirus software, which detects malicious programs like ransomware as they arrive. Keep it updated with the latest patches.

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About the Author: softwaretrickadmin

I am a professional software developer and founder of softwaretricks.net. I have a passion for troubleshooting and solving software problems on Windows and Linux. I love to write articles for installation steps and troubleshooting software problems. I am always ready to accept challenges!!