ransomware on the rise

Ransomware is on the Increase

Ransomware is a specific type of malware that is used to infect a computer system to restrict access to a user’s personal data. The reason why this is called ransomware is because the culprit behind this virus will demand a ransom fee from the owner of the device in order to get their personal data back. Hospitals, businesses, universities, schools, government, law enforcement agencies and even members of the general public are all targets for ransomware.

Loss of important digital files can be detrimental to an organization and can leave them in an incredibly vulnerable state. This can leave them feeling as if they have no other choice but to give into the cyber criminals by paying the ransom fee. Otherwise, the loss of the digital files could ruin the organization’s reputation or leave it bankrupted. Organizations being targeted for ransomware would be more common as the payoffs are generally quite high.

The individual is not safe either. Cybercriminals have been known to occupy home computers with ransomware. The loss of private information or media could also destroy a person’s reputation or leave them penniless.

Law enforcement has seen an increase in ransomware occurrences in the first three months of this year and believes that they will steadily increase as the year proceeds. This is why it is essential for an organization or individual that have high confidential digital files or information to prepare in advance for ransomware attacks.

Phishing Emails

The technique used to infect one’s computer system is called ‘phishing’. Phishing is an attempt to encrypt valuable or sensitive information such as credit card details, passwords, and usernames. Often the offender is disguised as a dependable entity in an electronic communication. The virus contained within this email can be found in an attachment, an invoice an electronic fax or a URL that directs the victim to a website that contains the harmful software.

The victims are generally unaware of the attack until they attempt to access the stolen files. When this happens, the perpetrator notifies the individual or organization of the attack and will then proceed to demand a ransom fee in exchange for a password or key to decrypt the stolen files. The perpetrator will usually demand a payment of Bitcoin to secure anonymity.

Spear Phishing Emails

Over the past decade, ransomware attacks were often executed via spam emails which were eventually filtered out by email systems as they grew more aware of these cyber crimes overtime. Phishing techniques have become far more advanced in recent times as cyber criminals have now turned to a method called ‘spear phishing’. Spear phishing is the process in which an email is tailored to a specific individual to appear more legitimate.

Don’t Give in

It is encouraged by the FBI NOT to give in to the cyber criminals by responding to their demands. FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor states that “Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organisation that it will get its data back—we’ve seen cases where organisations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom. Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity. And finally, by paying a ransom, an organization might inadvertently be funding other illicit activity associated with criminals.”

Tackle the Problem

As ransomware is on the increase, it is essential for all organizations and individuals to tackle the problem with urgency before it is too late. The FBI recommend that two areas should be focused on when approaching ransomware:

  • Prevention efforts—both in both in terms of awareness training for employees and robust technical prevention controls; and
  • The creation of a solid business continuity plan in the event of a ransomware attack.
To learn more about Phishing attacks like the one above, visit our Phishing Awareness Training page here.
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