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08/24/2016 0 Comment

The Rise of the Curse of Ransomware

What is it? What’s at stake - and How to Mitigate?
Technology now drives the world. In our pursuit and attempts to evolve, improve, and expand the use of technology, we have let it take over so much of our lives that the human brains that conceived this idea of technology and brought it to life, now stand inferior to its own brainchild. For technology is now an essential part of life, so much that the millions of ways in which it has been easing our work on one ground, it sure has evolved a parallel, contradictory world, that has nothing to do with good, that has no boundaries that is not confined by any rule, and of course has no good intentions – it is the shady world of cyber crimes.
The underground, cybercrime world runs parallel, in absolute contradiction to the cyber world, creating a parallel consequence, for anything that is created to gain technological benefits and thereby maintaining the balance of the universe – that “each action is followed by its equal and opposite reaction”. But since the mysterious world of hacking and malware has no rules to be bound, it does not resort to creating an equal reaction – it makes sure that the consequences turn out worse.

Taking the technological sector into our specific consideration, the progress is at an all time high. Hundreds of thousands of apps and software become part of the virtual world every day. Augmented reality is improving by every passing instant, creating a smart bridge between physical and the virtual world. Everything that was considered as solely a human job is now effectively being performed by machines and their advanced, encrypted brains. Organizational operations that once required full-fledged teams to perform a complex, exasperating task are now credited into the job specification of a mere set of software that does it with precision to perfection and with absolute accuracy.

However, like everything that comes along with its equal contradiction, with the perks of technology comes its curse. While a software developer works tirelessly, developing a software program, another developer, in a parallel world is assembling his codes, creating a program to counteract the efforts of the first. Not soon after a software is launched, there come a variety of hacks and cracks to counter its benefits. This is how the industry is booming on both sides along the lines. The software industry was already struggling to cope with virus, Trojans, malwares and other data breachers, and now it comes to face the biggest threat of all times – the ransomware!

Gone are the days when you would expect to receive those ransom notes, made of letters clipped out of newspapers now. It’s not just humans that can be abducted anymore – machines and systems are more at stake!

Ransomware – DefinedRansomware is the brainchild of cyber criminals across the globe, to extort money from their victim, in return for their own data, programs or systems.
Techopedia defines ransomware as, “a type of malware program that infects locks or takes control of a system and demands ransom to undo it. Ransomware attacks and infects a computer with the intention of extorting money from its owner”.

Also known as crypto-virus, crypto-Trojan or crypto-worm, it penetrates into the system through a loophole, identifies the keys and takes the system’s steering wheel in control, decrypting your files and paralyzing the entire network – unless you pay the abductors an amount they ask, to liberate your account, files or system from its clutches and to retrieve your data, back in your control.

The first ever ransomware assaults were reported in Russia, in 2005, where the attacks were confined to taking hold of a few key files, releasing them when the ransom was paid. The scam then took its toll and has evolved a great deal since then, worsening its impacts and extending its reach and accessibility. Ransom wares were designed and are well in vogue for one sole objective – to create a direct source of income, through extortion.

How it Works?Messages on our screens like "Warning: Malicious code detected", "Warning: A malicious program is trying to access your settings" and others likewise, are the regular reminders and notifications that you receive, issuing a hint at some activity beyond your knowledge taking place in your PC and we all know how to deal with it. Stop! Ignore! Do not allow! All it takes is a single click to get rid of the threat and we think we are safe.

But, bigger threats do not essentially appear in bigger sizes or with critical warnings. According to Symantec, “even a single weakness in the operation could cause the whole scheme to fail. There are many more elements to a ransomware attack than just the malware”.

You never know an email you just received from your bank, a shipping company, a recreational club with its offer or even your own employer, anything can be ransomware. And because it so official-looking, that appears as anything but malicious, and coming from authentic and reputable sources, ransomware are hard to detect and identify. 

Once you click open the email attachment or a web link, the malicious software installs itself in your system, in a spur of a moment, without even bringing it into your knowledge or asking for installation permissions. Once the malicious ware is installed, it will start decrypting your files, denying accessibility at you end and will paralyze or shut down your system. Upon reaching attempt you make to access your files, a notification window or message box will pop up, asking you to pay a specific amount at ransom to retrieve your system. They may even play smarter than that, imitating that your account has been locked down by the cyber security agencies and a fine has been imposed for some reasons. They ask you to pay the fine for a crime that you never remember committing and only then you will be handed over control.

Who’s at Stake?The attackers do not have an ideal victim profile. Anyone who can pay, they will attempt to make him pay, for his program, systems or data property. Millions of users, the potential prospects of the cyber criminals are attacked worldwide, so that if not from all, they will successfully wriggle out money from a fragment of them with a program and data property of high importance.

Their victims and prospects can be classified into three levels, varying in their technological use and the nature of their work. They may be:

  • Domestic and Home-Based Users - This victim group suffers from the highest number of ransomware attacks, because of their lack of knowledge and technical assistance and expertise. Often they have sensitive and valuable data stored on their hard drives in the form of files, pictures or videos, without any strong back up. During an attack, the ransomware seizes hold of their personal data, encrypts and deletes any local or external backup files.
  • Businesses and Organizations - Since the evolution of the virtual world, organizations and businesses have switched over to cloud, for a better, smart and integrated working and performance. And especially, with the incorporation of Point of Sales and Omni Channel strategies, that have elevated cloud networking and computing to a whole new level, it has also brought about a huge opportunity for cyber criminals to attacks these cloud organizational setups, freezing the entire systems and hence, an opportunity to settle the extortion deal on their own terms.
  • Government Institutions and Public Agencies - Government institutions and public agencies possess ample information of high significance, and work with data that is most critical in terms confidentiality. Since the cyber crime world is bound by no law or rules, this sounds ridiculous that not only the educational, banking, immigration and internal affairs institutions but the law enforcement agencies too are prone to the threat of ransomware.

In addition to the various types of victims, ransomwares are designed and customized to create a variety of systems. Since the technology has now turned ubiquitous and no field or sphere of life is left untapped from its influence, cybercriminals too have expanded the areas of operations and now any device with internet connectivity if under a possible threat and well within their reach. From most frequently targeted personal computers, mobile phones and data portal and severs to small domestic gadgets and appliances like routers, TVs, tablets, security and surveillance tools and network attached storage devices - most of them stand at a high risk of a ransomware attack.

Effective Countermeasure Strategies for RansomwareWhether you are a domestic user or a commercial, business entity, when it comes to the curse of ransomware, prevention should top your list of countermeasures, for if you settled for post-attack cure, you might not be able to completely revoke the effects of the cybercriminal assault. Here are some strategies that can be incorporated within your systems and your organizational standard operating procedures to prevent, eliminate and fight off any risk or threat of a ransomware attack.

  • Train and Educate - Formulate Standard Operating Procedures

It is important that you have a basic knowledge about what actually is ransomware and what damage it could possibly inflict on your system. It's not just about the money and the ransom that you would pay; the subsequent damage imposed might surpass the extent of complete revocability. Therefore, organizations and business entities should train and educate their entire workforce on standard operating procedures, related to network, connectivity and online procedures. Inform them about how it works, and the social engineering tricks that the cyber criminals use to bait their targets into the trap of ransomware.

  • Restructure Your Defense Mechanism - Incorporate a Layered Defense Technique

Review your IT security policy designs. Ransomware attacks have evolved and improved to be more than just a malicious link embedded in an email. The link may lead to a malignant website, where the actual ransomware would download itself into the system. Rather than relying over a fire-walled security, you need a multi-layered defense approach to your IT security designs. Each level or layer of security ensures an extra hindrance to the malicious activity, preventing the intruders from breaking into your system.

  • Look Out for the Escape Clauses

Critically scrutinize your entire IT and cloud setup, the software and application used in or daily operations for any bug, a functional discrepancy, or a technical loop that might serve as a welcome call for the cyber attackers to crack. Organize the information flow, confining it into limited and strictly essential constraints, to minimize the chance of any accidental or intentional data breach.

  • Lock your End Points and Server Terminals

As obvious as it sounds, end points and system and server terminals are most prone to the cyber assaults and therefore, they need to be dealt and secured with special and durable security measures. These terminals and system ends are actually the gateways for the interchange of information and critical communications. A crack or intrusion at one of these spots means that all that data and communication flow would be redirected and funneled into an external account. You might not even realize that your information is leaking into an unknown pool and this way, you turn into an easy target for a ransomware attack. Secure your end points, servers and cloud gateways with trusted security measures and defense programs.

  • Back Up - It's Your Lifeline!

Whether it is your personal or domestic files and the graphical data or your business' or organization's Big Data, make it a point to double secure, replicate and back up your data, to reduce the consequence of any potential cyber threats. Since data is the key, if you do not lose your entire data in a cyber-attack and have a firm grasp over your crucial information, you will be able to steer control of the situation and would come out of the unexpected and unpleasant circumstances, without bearing a significant or critical loss. A data backup will be your instant lifeline.

  • Use Credible Network Protection Programs

Anti-virus, anti-spam, firewalls, and protective applications against Trojan, key logger, phishing pages and other malwares, is your first line of defense against the malicious activity and cyber-attacks. But, the cyber criminals may out smart you, by injecting the malicious codes into certain programs made for IT security and system protection. Therefore, while opting for a protection plan for your system, ensure that it is trusted and formulated by a reliable source.

  • Avoid Unauthentic Software Toolkits

Add-on applications, installations for updates and additional tools for existing essential software programs can be counterfeited and scammed through ransomware. For instance, you come across an  online offer about a new update for a software that you have been using. Upon clicking the link, the malicious ad will redirect you to land on to the ransomware site that will attempt to alter and compromise your data and system. Therefore, it is advised that to protect yourself from a manipulative action or infectious updates and ensure that you secure your software, applications and programs with authentic security measures. Also, if you are a regular user of Adobe, Microsoft programs, Oracle or any other applications, always opt for automatic updates, and refrain from being tempted into unauthentic update suites.

  • Every Unit Counts - Individual System and Device Protection

While laying down a countermeasure strategy for your system, make sure that you count each and every unit, all major and minor component and circumscribe them all into a strictly enclosed security. Often while focusing on the major potential spots for criminal intrusion, we tend to miss out on the minor loops and cyber attackers take advantage of this opportunity. By creating specific security measures for each functional unit of the system, you will minimize the risk and chances of a ransomware attack or other cyber risks.

  • Prepare for the Worst – Update Your Alternates

Even if you have double checked your IT and network security designs and gone the extra mile to strengthen your lines of defense, it is a good idea to prepare for a possible attack beforehand. In case your security is breached and your system, server or data is abducted, you need to make sure that your backups are ready so as to minimize the loss and keep the situation in control. Establish a disaster response strategy, set up your back up data and alternate servers so that you would revoke the major harms imposed by the cyber attackers.

ConclusionThe bottom line is that ransomware is a now a concrete, present age reality of the online world, which is growing worse. The cybercrime world is a profitable and booming industry for the online hackers, snatchers and malware producers to rob people off their precious data and extort money for its return. Paying the data and system abductors would not do you any good, for they will get you trapped and engulfed into the long haul of exploitation, and will continue to extort money from your account. Moreover, they will keep your entire system at stake, and if ever you try to go against their demands, they will damage your entire cloud entity. The best way to fight off the curse of ransomware is to prevent it, taking precautionary measures beforehand so that you leave no crack or chance for the assaulters to manipulate.

What can iConnect do for you? 
iConnect has the tools and technology to help overcome this growing menace. iConnect is helping several Furniture Retailers safeguard their network infrastructure by putting controls and check points at various levels in an attempt to thwart all such nefarious attacks that has the potential to bring down your working network infrastructure to a standstill.

Please contact me | 703-471-3964 *241 and let us know how we can help you.