What Is Ransomware?


Image via Flickr by Christiaan Colen | CC BY 2.0

Malware is something that every business owner should be aware of so that they can protect their organization from data breaches, monetary loss, and decreased productivity. This word, which is a combination of the words “malicious” and “software,” has various types. One of the most impactful kinds is ransomware, which you can learn about below.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts an innocent user’s information and demands that they pay money to regain access to it. Ransomware may encrypt and prevent access to certain data files or an entire operating system. Crypto-ransomware refers to the process of encrypting certain files without interfering with the computer’s functions. Locker-ransomware refers to the process of affecting basic computer functions to coerce users into paying to regain full use of their devices.

Ransomware can have grave effects on businesses’ operations. Companies can lose access to important data temporarily or permanently. Either way, they can experience hindrances to productivity. If business leaders choose to pay the ransom they’ve received, their business can experience significant monetary losses. Ransomware can also result in damaged reputations if perpetrators choose to first gather sensitive data before encrypting it. Having a reliable IT company on your business’s side can help you mitigate the risks that ransomware presents.

The History of Ransomware

Even though ransomware may sound like a new concept, it’s actually decades old. The first known ransomware attack occurred in 1989 in Stockholm, Sweden, during an AIDS conference held by the World Health Organization. The leader of the attacker, a biologist by the name of Joseph Popp, gave out thousands of floppy disks that each contained a Trojan virus. He labeled these disks “AIDS Information – Introductory Diskettes,” so no one had any reason to suspect that these disks were malicious.

When victims put the floppy disks into their MS-DOS systems, they unknowingly put viruses on their computers. Once the computers loaded a certain number of times, the viruses encrypted specific files and hid the computers’ directories. A message from “PC Cyborg Corporation” popped up on each affected screen and demanded that victims send nearly $200 to an international P.O. address. Experts were able to figure out the decryption process, and they helped many victims get their data back without losing money.

Even though this instance of ransomware was largely unsuccessful for the perpetrator, it set the precedent for future attacks. Perpetrators have since used various ransomware methods and tactics to get users to pay them money. For example, some ransomware claims that users have unlicensed software on their computer and demands that they pay a penalty fee to regain access to their device. Other ransomware cases assert that users have illegal content on their computers and demand exorbitantly high fees, claiming that users are paying off legal fees.

What Are Some Examples of Ransomware?

Since the first known case of ransomware, hundreds of variants have emerged. Certain groups have become infamous for their unique approaches and the damage they’ve inflicted on individuals and businesses worldwide. One of these groups was the group behind Maze. These criminals would first collect sensitive information from users’ devices before they would encrypt it. If the users refused to pay the ransom after encryption, the people behind Maze would threaten to release the sensitive data publicly. Maze has since closed down its operations, but its impact won’t be forgotten in the world of cybersecurity.

Another example of ransomware is present in DearCry. DearCry is a ransomware variant that takes advantage of weaknesses in the Microsoft Exchange Server. Microsoft has since released instructions on how to mitigate the risks that DearCry presents.

Why Is It Difficult To Find Perpetrators of Ransomware?

It’s often difficult to find perpetrators of ransomware because this form of malware is largely anonymous. Attackers often demand payment via Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are more challenging to track than traditional payment methods. It’s also difficult to find perpetrators of ransomware because this type of malware has become more popular over the years. Drag-and-drop platforms and the broad availability of open-source code has helped attackers access ransomware variants at alarming rates and even create their own. 

How Does Ransomware Work?

Here at Golden Tech, we have a thorough understanding of ransomware so that we can help businesses in various industries, including the healthcare, financial, and legal fields, prevent these kinds of attacks. Here’s a breakdown of how perpetrators use ransomware:

They Choose a Distribution Vector

First, perpetrators attempt to gain access to victims’ devices and information. They can use several methods to do so, but one of the most common is to send out phishing emails that contain malicious links.

The Variant Encrypts Victims’ Data

Once the ransomware variant is on a user’s device, it starts to encrypt files. The variant accesses the relevant files and encrypts them with a perpetrator-operated key. The attacker replaces the original files with the encrypted ones and often deletes backup copies to make recovery more difficult.

The Perpetrators Demand a Ransom

After file encryption occurs, the variant will display a message that demands payment from the victims. Upon payment, an attacker will provide the victim with a decryption program and the corresponding symmetric encryption key. These elements will provide the user with renewed access to their encrypted files.

How Can Businesses Protect Themselves from Ransomware?

One of the easiest ways that businesses can protect themselves from ransomware is to get in the habit of creating backup files. It’s best to store these files on an external hard drive or within a computer cloud. If ransomware gets onto your primary devices, you can just wipe them clean and reinstall your backup files. Other ways that businesses can protect themselves from ransomware include:

  • Use updated security software.
  • Always use secure networks and consider installing VPNs on company computers.
  • Implement security awareness programs in the workplace.
  • Encourage all employees to only visit websites that they know are safe.

If you’d like to develop comprehensive IT solutions for your business, get in touch with the team at Golden Tech today. We help safeguard businesses and mitigate security risks so that they can focus on running their operations successfully.

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