Ransomware Explained

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With the quick transition from in-office to remote work and an intense focus on serving customers through digital channels, cyberattacks like ransomware have become more prominent and dangerous. According to a recent survey, it is revealed that two out of five remote workers are vulnerable to cyberattacks due to the lack of efficient training and overwhelmed IT departments.

 

What is Ransomware?

Imagine a scenario – you are working on your home computer and suddenly notice that the system is too slow. You are not able to access your files and are getting a lot of error messages. Then you find pop-ups and messages on your computer, saying that your files are encrypted, and you need to pay a ransom amount to get your decryption key. This is what ransomware does to your system.

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the user data, makes it inaccessible and then demands a ransom from the victim for decrypting the data. The ransom amount varies greatly for individuals and organizations and is usually paid as virtual currency, like bitcoin.

 

How Ransomware enters your network?

Ransomware enters your system using a variety of techniques. The most common infection vectors are described below:

Phishing emails

Phishing emails are the most common gateway for ransomware. These emails often impersonate as a legitimate entity, to obtain sensitive user data credentials. Once the credentials are obtained, the cybercriminals use this information to enter the system or network and deploy ransomware.

RDP vulnerability

Remote Desktop Protocol is a proprietary protocol that provides a user with an interface to connect to another computer over a network connection. RDP security relies on proper password protocol, usually ignored by the users. The criminals mostly use the brute force attack method, which is a trial-and-error method to obtain weak passwords. Once the credentials are attained, they can bypass endpoint protection and encrypt data.

Software Vulnerability

Software vulnerabilities refer to the weaknesses or flaws in the code, which affects the security of the software. Unpatched software programs pave way for cybercriminals to enter your system or network, even without credentials. Hence, it is important to update and patch the software for added security.

 

Key Sectors most Vulnerable to Ransomware

  1. Healthcare

Healthcare industries with their time-sensitive critical data is often a frequent target for cybercriminals. The healthcare industries store a large number of personal as well as financial information and the interruptions in services might place patient’s life at risk.

  1. Education

Lack of proper endpoint security and network policy is the reason why an educational institution is prone to ransomware attacks. A student or staff can connect a personal laptop that is malware-infected and can cause the whole network to get infected. This is mainly because of the fact that they have less control over devices connected to the network.

  1. IT and Telecom

In recent years, cyberattacks on IT and telecom companies have increased in number. In order to meet the growing digital and communication needs of the world, IT/Telecom companies store and operate a huge amount of sensitive data, which makes them a target for hackers. Telecom companies face two types of attacks – direct cyberattack aiming their organization and indirect cyberattack that aims at their subscribers/customers.

  1. Government/Military

Government and military segments are also susceptible to ransomware attacks by cybercriminals who are trying to monetize the abundant confidential information like fingerprints, social security numbers and many more.

  1. Banking/Finance

Finance industries are being targeted by attackers for the most obvious reasons – money and personal information. Customers expect financial services to be available for their service consistently and any cyberattacks might disrupt the services, thereby causing loss of confidential customer data.

 

 

How to respond to a Ransomware attack?

  • Disconnect the infected system from the network
  • Check for online ransomware decryptors
  • Restore files from the backup
  • Report the attack immediately

 

Best Practices to minimize ransomware risks

Paying a ransom is not the solution to ransomware, as it only encourages the criminals. Also, paying the ransom does not guarantee that the victim’s file will be recovered. The best way to minimize the risk of a ransomware attack is to implement proper security controls.

  • Create a strong password
  • Ensure two-factor authentication
  • Put RDP behind a firewall
  • Backup data regularly
  • Educate your end users/employees
  • Separate networks with network segmentation
  • Consider a cybersecurity partner

 

Final Thoughts

Even though ransomware can attack any type of industry, the government is more concerned about the critical segments like police & fire departments and hospitals, as the attack can delay the response to emergencies. Hence, it is imperative to have a brief knowledge of the attack types and mitigation techniques to better prepare for a ransomware attack.

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