Ransomware: How to avoid getting locked out.

Ransomware: How to avoid getting locked out.
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 26 May 2017

During the last couple of weeks a new word has been dominating IT-related conversations all around the globe: “Wannacry”. Wannacry is the name of most recent notorious cybersecurity attack, which has locked down the computers of thousands of users in different countries by encrypting their files and making them non accessible. This is yet another notorious incident in the long list of catastrophic cyber-attacks that have taken place during the past decade. Wannacry has reminded us of the importance of cyber-security, while confirming that ransomware is the type of attack with the worse consequences on IT operations nowadays. Ransomwares are a special type of cyber-attacks, wherein the cyber-criminals launching the attack prompt users to pay a ransom in order to restore access to the files of their computer. This is the reason why Wannacry locked down all the files of the infected computer, except for one that displayed a message about what happened to the computer and explained how the ransom should be paid.


Ransomware: Facts and Figures

Ransomware is a general class of malicious code, which, when launched, leads to data kidnapping and theft. It is typically classified as a malware rather than as a virus. This means that it is spread through internet-based pathways, notably e-mail and web surfing. Through the launch of ransomware attacks, cyber-criminals attempt to make money by threatening their victims. Hence, ransomware attacks notify their victims about the exact steps they can undertake, in order to recover their data safely, which however involves paying the cyber-criminals a certain amount of bitcoins or other electronic currency (e.g., payment vouchers).  Ransom amounts vary, yet an average amount is approximately in the area of $300.

Preventing access to your files is probably the most known issue of a ransomware infected machine. However, other effects are also possible such as preventing you from accessing your operating system or even stopping popular applications such as web browsers. In general, the most common ransomware attacks can be classified in one of the following two categories:

1.Crypto ransomware and

2. Locker ransomware.

Crypto ransomware attacks encrypt personal data and files, while locker ransomware prevents its victims from using their computer through locking it.  Crypto and locker ransomware are relatively new versions of ransomware. Some of the older versions flashed messages saying that the user had used his computer in an illegal way and that he were to be fined by the police or some government agency.

Ransomware attacks are not new, as instances of such attacks have been observed since over a decade. In 2005 the Trojan.Gpcoder malware corrupted files and slowed down the performance of the computers it infected. However, in recent years ransomware has a growing momentum: In the period 2013-2014 a 250% increase was recorded in ransomware attacks. This momentum is highly due to the fact that ransomware cyber-criminals are among the most intelligent and innovative hackers on the internet. We suspect that this intelligence could soon breed ransomware attacks on mobile devices or even smartwatches, which would further increase the economic impact of ransomware.


Preventing and Confronting Ransomware

No one wishes to experience the adverse consequences of a ransomware attack. Hence, you should take precautions so that you avoid such attacks. However, in case they happen, you should also be prepared to deal with it. As ransomware is a malware, you should be careful when dealing with links and messages in potential malware sources. Here are some tips:

Restoring your computer following a ransomware attack is never easy, especially when your files have been encrypted. The following suggestions should be taken into account:

Despite increased investments in cyber-security systems, ransomware attacks are on the rise, which creates challenges for all stakeholders including IT administrators, security experts, CIO (Chief Information Officers), enterprises and computer users. It is highly unlikely that ransomware and other malware attacks will be completely eliminated. Nevertheless, it is always possible to reduce their likelihood and mitigate their consequences. Apart from technical tools and support, this also requires investments in security processes and awareness, which should be never underestimated. Therefore, it is always better to take a holistic approach to cyber-resilience, which considers- policies, technical measures and security-aware processes at the same time.

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