What is ransomware?
Ransomware viruses claim the throne as one of the most rampant and financially devastating infections. Hackers pursue a relatively simple venture. They use deception, social engineering, drive-by downloads, and other misleading tactics to rampage on users’ devices. In addition to infecting random netizens, crooks dive deep into more authoritative and well-endowed facilities. Hence, the entire online community is a potential target. Luckily, there are effective defense mechanisms, designed to fend-off such financially-draining ransomware attacks.
Ransomware: the infection that encrypts
Ransomware is a file-encrypting malware, leveraging users’ data as the possessions they want to preserve or reclaim. Netizens’ computers are full of personal details, including photos, copies of IDs or passports, important projects, and other materials. Hence, your operating system becomes a very profitable venture if successfully hacked. Attackers create a hostage situation that puts extreme pressure on the victim.
How do they trigger such stressful emotions? By encrypting files stored in users’ devices. Victims will realize that their files no longer work or contain ciphertext instead of the original plaintext. Then, the ransomware leaves ransom notes as .txt files or as desktop backgrounds. To retrieve data in its initial form, victims will need to pay hefty sums of money, usually in various cryptocurrencies. Crooks prefer the blockchain-powered system as transactions are nearly impossible to trace.
However, the standard file-encrypting strategy is no longer enough for the creators of ransomware. According to a report, hackers perform data weaponization in an attempt to intimidate victims and pursue them to pay. The blackmailing efforts overstep the common threats of losing data permanently. As more companies become victims, crooks threaten to release confidential documents, strategies, and policies publicly. In some cases, vicious attackers terrorize enterprises with the claims to sell corporate data to their competitors.
Ransomware attack tendencies
Ransomware viruses leave a permanent stain on corporate infrastructures. One of the recent attacks focused on a multinational Garmin company. Apparently, hackers penetrated the company’s servers and managed to encrypt some of its vital data. For four days, the services were unavailable to some extent, with consumers experiencing serious technical difficulties. While Garmin did not admit the ransomware attack right away, it later revealed that WastedLocker was responsible.
Such ransomware attacks continue to disrupt all spheres, including medical facilities. The number of attempts spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Hospitals and other treatment facilities operate with extensive databases of patient records, medical histories, and other highly-confidential documents. These features make them profitable targets for ransomware creators to exploit, especially when hospitals tend to use outdated systems. Even if facilities refuse to pay, hackers can auction stolen data on the dark web. Hence, with the variety of sophisticated and destructive strategies emerging, both organizations and regular netizens need to secure their data.
How to protect yourself from ransomware?
- Do not download files from suspicious emails. Your inbox might contain some extremely disruptive documents and links distributing ransomware. If you receive an unexpected correspondence, do not be eager to react to its message proactively. In case the sender claims to be a representative of a legitimate company, contact it and ask for verification.
- Test the stability and resistance of your system. While not fully applicable to regular netizens, penetration testing is an effective strategy. Such attempts to perform validated break-ins will show the weaknesses of corporate infrastructures. Additionally, you can test your team’s resistance against common or more sophisticated scams.
- Use a reliable antivirus program. You can set such tools to perform scheduled scans or do them manually upon noticing certain irregularities. Sadly, detecting a ransomware infection in time is challenging. Before you know it, all your files will contain a bizarre extension and won’t be usable anymore. Hence, the best strategy here is prevention.
- A VPN helps you steer clear of suspicious websites. Drive-by downloads are a common tactic used by ransomware. An infection might end up in devices without users’ authorization by exploiting flaws in operating systems or browsers. AtlasVPN has a SafeBrowse feature that filters sites and guides users away from those that might operate with malicious intentions.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.