How Ransomware Attacks Work And How To Avoid Them?

Jyoti  |  Jun 18, 2020

Ransomware is a type of malware, malicious software, which limits the users from accessing their system or personal files. In order to regain access to those files, the users have to pay some ransom to the hacker and in recent times a majority of these ransomware attacks demand cryptocurrency in exchange of giving back the access to the victim.

The very first ransomware attack happened in 1989, where the victim paid the attacker through snail mail. But as time passed, the hackers or the attackers upgraded their demand for ransom. Now, they demand the victims to pay the ransom through cryptocurrency or credit card.

There are many ways a hacker can use to infect or corrupt files or data, one of them is through malicious spam or Malspam. This is a kind of a voluntary email which contains malware in the form of attachments or malicious websites. The method uses social engineering to appear legitimate to the receiver so that they can easily be tricked into opening attachments or the links sent via a mail.

Another method used by cybercriminals to attack the system is malvertising or malicious advertising. This became the most popular method among hackers in the year 2016 because it either requires a bit of interaction with the user or no interaction with the user at all.

A report prepared by Europol (IOCTA 2018) explained that since the last decade, ransomware has become a very popular choice of cyberattack and in the recent time, it is considered to be the most prominent malware threat for financially motivated cyber-attacks around the world.

How Ransomware Affected Tech Firms And Government Agencies In Past?

The first ransomware attack took place in the late 80s was popularly known as PC Cyborg or AIDS. The malware would collect all the files of the users, reboot them at least 90 times and encrypt them into the C: directory. Then in order to trick the user, the malware asks them to renew their license by sending $189 to PC Cyborg Corp and that too via mail.

However, for some people like computer savvy, this PC Cyborg was not a bigger threat because according to them, the encryption used by the malware was easy enough to get reversed.

In the year 2004, a true ransomware threat GpCode arrived in front of a computer-savvy. This malware used weak RSA encryption to prevent users from accessing their personal files for ransom.

Then after three years, people encountered a new kind of malware, WinLock, which despite encrypting the files of the users, locks its screen and shows pornographic images on it. This threat asked the users to pay to it through paid SMS if they want to remove the illicit image.

After that in the year 2012, the cyber-criminals brought a new kind of ransomware, law enforcement ransomware, to threat the people. The ransomware actually was not related to law enforcement, the cyber-criminals have presented the page in a way that it appears to be the like original FBI or Interpol.

The law enforcement ransomware would lock the user out of its own desktop claiming that it has committed a crime and to undo the crime the ransomware family demands fine from $100 to $3000. The law enforcement ransomware also asked the users to pay the ransom either through UKash or PaySafeCard.

The very next year the most dangerous encrypting ransomware, CryptoLocker, of the time was introduced. This ransomware is considered to be the most dangerous because the users were not able to decrypt it and get back their data. The users had to pay ransom to CryptoLocker. The encryption used by the ransomware was military-graded and it stored the key, which could unlock the file, on a remote server.

Although in recent time, the ransomware family is upgrading themselves and getting more sophisticated and organized with each passing year,  some of the attackers still rely on CryptoLocker.

Then in 2017, people faced a different kind of ransomware attack on their system known as WannaCry and Petya. They used encrypted ransomware to trap businesses around the world.

A report by December Emsisoft specified that in 2019, around 948 government agencies, educational establishment and healthcare providers in the US became the victim of a ransomware attack. 

How To Avoid Ransomware Attack?

To prevent yourself from a ransomware attack, you should remember a few things:

  1. Never to click on links which are not verified- These links either appear in your spam emails or appear in front of you like an unfamiliar website while you are browsing. 
  2. Avoid opening emails, if you are unfamiliar with the sender- Most of the time we receive emails from an unfamiliar sender. They try to fascinate you through some catchy lines or advertisement to hack your files but do not trust them. It could be a ransomware attack.
  3. Download from trusted sites only-  At times while downloading a specific file people click on links which can infect their computers, therefore, before downloading something check whether the site could be trusted or not. Download only from known and trusted sites. It is easy to find a trusted site, they always use markers to get recognized by the users.
  4. Don’t share your personal data- If any untrusted source asks to share your personal data with them through any medium, avoid doing so. The cybercriminals can use the information in phishing emails to make you the next target.
  5. Update software and operating system regularly- If your software is updated then cyber-criminals can not infect your system. The update provides you with the latest security patches which would prevent your system from being exploited by the cybercriminals.
  6. Conclusion

    Since the late 1980s, the ransomware attack has grown. The cybercriminals have upgraded themselves, their software which helps them in targeting people. But along with it, anti-ransomware solutions have also appeared in the market and its always better to take caution and remember that if anything on the internet or over the mail looks too good or fishy to be true, in all certainty its a bait.

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