Edition: International | Greek

Home » Analyses

Ransomware: what is it, how does it work, and can you protect yourself?

What would it mean if you lost all of your personal documents, such as your family photos, research or business records? How much would you pay to get them back? Thereís a burgeoning form of cybercrime that hinges on the answers to these questions

By: EBR - Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017

text size [–] [+]
The biggest concern with ransomware is the rate at which it is adapting to combat security protections. We recently examined the evolution of ransomware and found that ransomware developers are learning from their mistakes in previous versions. Each generation includes new features, and improved attack strategies.
The biggest concern with ransomware is the rate at which it is adapting to combat security protections. We recently examined the evolution of ransomware and found that ransomware developers are learning from their mistakes in previous versions. Each generation includes new features, and improved attack strategies.

MORE ON Analyses

by Zubair Baig and Nikolai Hampton*

You have probably heard of viruses and malware. These dangerous pieces of software can make their way into your computer and wreak havoc. Malware authors are intent on stealing your data and disrupting the proper functioning of your digital devices.

Then there is ransomware. This is crafted by cyber-criminals for extorting data from innocent users, and is rapidly becoming a threat to individuals, small business and corporate users alike.

Unlike malware, ransomware does not steal data. Rather, it holds it captive by encrypting files and then displaying a ransom note on the victimís screen. It demands payment for the cyber-extortion and threatens obliteration of data otherwise.

While the concept of ransomware has existed for more than 20 years, it wasnít until 2012 that several key technological advances aligned and allowed it to flourish.

Now ransomware has evolved. It combines file encryption, it uses ďdarkĒ networks to conceal the attacker, and uses (or, rather, misuses) cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to prevent law enforcement from tracing the ransom payment back to the attackerís den.

For a small upfront cost and with low risk of getting caught, ransomware developers can net good returns: industry estimates range from 1,000% to 2,000% return on investment.

Whatís driving ransomware proliferation?

Paying small ransom amounts is quite simply adding to the problem. If you donít, you lose your data; if you do pay, then you contribute to a worsening problem.

Yet for ransomware creators, itís a lucrative business. Industry figures vary greatly, but reports suggest that developers can earn more than US$1 million per year, which is enough to attract skilled programmers and engineers.

There have been many reports of Australian businesses paying ransoms. Even the authorities arenít safe, with several police departments in the US having paid ransoms in order to recover files. And weíve even seen reports that FBI experts have advised victims to ďjust pay the ransomĒ if they need their data.

The biggest concern with ransomware is the rate at which it is adapting to combat security protections. We recently examined the evolution of ransomware and found that ransomware developers are learning from their mistakes in previous versions. Each generation includes new features, and improved attack strategies.

We also found that over 80% of recent ransomware strains were using advanced security features that made them difficult to detect, and almost impossible to ďcrackĒ. Things donít look good for end-users; ransomware is increasingly using advanced encryption, networking, evasion and payment technologies. The developers are also making fewer mistakes and writing ďbetterĒ software.

Itís not a stretch to imagine a ransomware developer currently working on ways to attack even corporate databases, or versions that lay low while they identify all of your backup disks.

How to protect yourself

Recovering files from ransomware is impossible without the attackerís approval, so you need to avoid data loss in the first place. The best thing you can do is practice good ďdigital hygieneĒ:

-Donít fall prey to social engineering or phishing, which is where an attacker attempts to have you reveal sensitive information to them. If you receive a suspicious email from your grandma or work colleagues, ask yourself whether itís unusual before you click. If youíre not sure, contact the sender via a different medium, such as giving them a phone call, to cross-check
-Donít install any software, plugins or extensions unless you know theyíre from a reputable source. If in doubt, ask and only rely on trusted download sources. And certainly donít be tempted to pick up USB sticks found on your pathway
-Update your software (comprising your operating system, web browser and other installed software) regularly to ensure you are always running the latest versions
Backup!

Important documents need to be treated like valued possessions. Grab a hand full of USB keys and rotate your backups daily or weekly, and donít leave USB keys plugged in (current malware strains can scan removable USB disks). Having multiple copies means the adversarial effort on holding you for ransom is pretty much worthless.

Ransomware is a very real threat. Its rapid growth is being driven by the low risk to attackers and good financial returns. We all need to stay ahead of the game. Letís start now and be safe not sorry!

*Zubair Baig - Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University, Nikolai Hampton - Master of Cyber Security Candidate, Edith Cowan University
**First published in www.weforum.org

Europe

Social Democrats sign up to new Merkel-led German government

Germanyís Social Democrats (SPD) decisively backed another coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkelís conservatives on Sunday (4 March), clearing the way for a new government in Europeís largest economy after months of political uncertainty

Business

These are the most popular business schools with employers

Higher education group QS has released its annual guide to the best universities in the world, including breakdowns for the leading institutions by subject

Editorís Column

Macronís trick and Merkelís weakness

By: N. Peter Kramer

The French president Emmanuel Macron has lost his popularity. France is striking again. Macron profiled himself as the leader of a revolution against "a caste of privileged top officials of the French state."

MARKET INDICES


Live World Indices are Powered by Forexpros - The Leading Financial Portal.

Magazine

View 1/2018 2018 Digital edition

Current Issue

1/2018 2018

View past issues
Subscribe
Advertise
Digital edition

All contents © Copyright EMG Strategic Consulting Ltd. 1997-2018. All Rights Reserved   |   Home Page  |   Disclaimer  |   Website by Theratron