What Is a Ransomware Attack and How Can You Prevent It?

With the number of cyberattacks increasing every day, our digital data is at high risk. There are several types of attacks that have been prevalent for years and are still very dangerous. One of those attacks is the ransomware attack. In this tutorial, you will understand what a ransomware attack is, how it works, and how you can protect yourself from it.

Introduction to Ransomware Attack 

In the year 2015, the TeslaCrypt ransomware spread rapidly, and this affected thousands of gamers. After a long gaming session, gamers witnessed some random text file on their desktop that said "RANSOM NOTE."

This text file mentioned how a hacking group had several gamer's game files and private documents encrypted and unreadable. Each of them had to pay a ransom of $500 worth of bitcoin to a specified bitcoin address. Only after this did they receive the master key that was used for encrypting the files.

This was the TeslaCrypt ransomware; move on to understanding what exactly a ransomware attack is all about. 

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What Is Ransomware Attack?

A ransomware attack is a malware that encrypts personal information and documents while demanding a ransom amount to decrypt them. This ransom payment is mainly done using crypto-currency to ensure anonymity but can also employ other routes. Once the files are encrypted or locked behind a password, a text file is available to the victim, explaining how to make the ransom payment and unlock the files for it. 

Even after the money has been paid, there is no guarantee that the hackers will send the decryption key or unlock the files, but in certain sensitive situations, victims make the payment hoping for the best.

Next, understand how such an attack works.

How Does a Ransomware Attack Work?

  • The spread of ransomware mostly starts with phishing attacks. A ransomware attack gains access to a victim's device through infected emails, messages, and malicious sites and encrypts the data in that device. 
  • The ransomware uses simple asymmetric encryption algorithms, blocks a user's files, and makes them difficult to decrypt without knowing the key.
  • It also maps the locations for targeted file types that include files stored locally and mapped and unmapped network-accessible devices.
  • It can also spread them via malware, transmitted via untrusted application installation, or even a compromised wireless network.
  • Another way to breach a system with ransomware is by using the Remote Desktop Protocol or RDP access. It can access remotely a computer using this protocol, allowing a hacker to install malicious software on the system with the owner, unaware of these developments.
  • Ransomware adds instruction files describing the pay-for-decryption process, then uses those files to present a ransom note to the user.
  • Ransomware usually terminates and destroys itself by leaving only the payment instruction files.

Types of Ransomware

There are numerous types of ransomware available, but they mainly fall into three categories:

Locker ransomware: It is a type of malware that blocks standard computer functions from being accessed until the payment to the hackers is not complete. It shows a lock screen that doesn't allow the victim to use the computer for primary purposes.

Crypto ransomware: This ransomware encrypts the local files and documents on the computers. Once the files are encrypted, finding the decryption key is impossible unless the ransomware variant is old and the keys are already available on the internet.

Scareware: It is a fake software that claims to have detected a virus or other issue on your computer and directs you to pay to resolve the problem. Some scareware locks the computer, while others flood the screen with pop-up alerts without damaging files.

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How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks?

Now that you know what a ransomware attack is, understand how it can be prevented.

  • One must always have backups of their data. Cloud storage for backup is easy, but a physical backup in a hard drive is always recommended. 
  • Keeping the system updated with the latest security patches is always a good idea. 
  • Apart from system updates, one must always have reputed antivirus software installed. A good deal of antivirus software like Kaspersky and Bitdefender have anti-ransomware features that periodically check for encryption of private documents. 
  • When browsing the internet, a user must always check for the lock symbol on the address bar, which signifies the presence of HTTPS protocol for additional security. 
  • If a system is infected with ransomware already, there is a website, 'nomoreransom.org.' It has a collection of decryption tools for most well-known ransomware packages. It can also help decrypt specific encrypted files if the list of anti-ransomware tools didn't help the victim.

How to Remove Ransomware?

In case a ransomware virus attack has compromised your system, you can regain access using the below steps:

  • Isolate the infected device and recognize the type of ransomware infection.
  • Deploy ransomware decryption tools to decrypt your infected files so you can re-access them.
  • Investigate and scan the device to detect the ransomware virus.
  • Recover files from data backups. Once you format the disk and restore the clean, the ransomware will be successfully eliminated from your system.

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Here are the five most popular ransomware attacks that occurred in recent years and grabbed the entire world's attention.

WannaCry: WannaCry ransomware first emerged in 2017 and infected thousands of computers in over 150 countries.

Petya: Petya ransomware is an encrypting malware that first surfaced in 2016. It encrypts critical files and holds them hostage unless you pay.

Cerber: Cerber appeared in 2016 that spread through phishing emails and encrypted users' files and data with advanced encryption methods.

BadRabbit: BadRabbit ransomware is reported to be an improved variant of the Petya ransomware. It locks up the victims' computers, servers, and other files, preventing them from regaining access until a ransom in the form of  Bitcoin is paid. 

Locky: Released in 2016, Locky is a type of ransomware sent using emails demanding payment through an invoice in the form of a tainted Microsoft Word document containing infectious macros.

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Ransomware attacks have become increasingly common due to the shift in corporate work culture from in-office to work from home. In March 2021, a Chicago-based company called CNA Financial was attacked by ransomware that affected nearly 75,000 users. The company was later forced to pay out 40 million dollars to get their system access back. Ransomware costs businesses more than $75 billion per year, and we must take the necessary steps to incur as minor damage as possible. So that was ransomware, in a nutshell, a growing concern among security professionals worldwide.

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In today's tutorial on ransomware attacks, you understood what a ransomware attack is all about, how it works, and the types of ransomware attacks. Do you have any queries regarding this topic? If yes, feel free to ask them in the comment section below, and we will be happy to answer your questions.

About the Author

Baivab Kumar JenaBaivab Kumar Jena

Baivab Kumar Jena is a computer science engineering graduate, he is well versed in multiple coding languages such as C/C++, Java, and Python.

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