Dealing With the Alarming Rise of Ransomware Attacks

The development of network technologies has proven to be one of the most significant milestones in human history. Due to the excessive capabilities of modern technologies that have provided innovative solutions and enhanced efficiency and effectiveness, they have become an integral part of every operating industry. The prominence of network technologies becoming critical infrastructure for industries and institutions has fueled the importance and severity that can be caused once that infrastructure is placed at risk. The ubiquitous presence of the internet through providing enhanced access possibilities has increased the potential risk sources that may arise from the digital environment, as a result, cybersecurity has become a vital business component of any operating industry.

Witnessing the vital importance of technology for businesses, malicious entities through utilizing the cloak of anonymity that cyberspace provides, continuously prey on the vulnerabilities of systems and networks to commit attacks for various purposes and objectives which at most times can be financially or personally driven. The main attack strategy and methodology that cyber criminals utilize to penetrate the systems and networks of organizations are through malicious software also known as malware. Cybercriminals utilize the interconnectedness between network infrastructures to deploy the malware to cause damages or alter resources for their benefit.

The last decade was characterized by a significant surge in frequency and sophistication of cyber-attacks, where cyber-attackers utilized the various types of malware to disrupt various entities for various purposes which at most times were financially motivated. One of the most prevailing cybercrimes that organizations and societies deal with nowadays is called ransomware. As the name suggests, ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts the data and information of a victim until a financial ransom is paid to the attacker, who will, in turn, provide the victim with a decryption key for them to regain access to the encrypted files and resources.

In a general context, ransomware is a type of data-based extortion method which has been facilitated by the development of ransom encryption software and digital currency, specifically Bitcoin which is the most preferred method of ransom payment. Considering the wide integration of IT and cloud solutions in the modern working environment, organizations have had to deal with the increased threat landscape that surrounds the utilization of digital resources, consequently, a great deal of them fall victim to a ransomware attack. The deployment of ransomware has proven to be quite successful for malicious entities who have managed to extort hundreds of millions of dollars on a yearly basis.

The origin of ransomware dates back to 1989 with the “AIDS Trojan Virus” being distributed via floppy disks, it wasn’t until 2005 when the next instance of ransomware called “GPCoder” was distributed. While the integration of technological solutions in the workplace elevated the risk potential associated with cyberspace, other security concerns related to ransomware rose with the development of smartphones and mobile devices that have witnessed a significant increase in the reported ransomware attacks due to cybercriminals targeting these devices and changing the PIN number, in the process disabling the victim in accessing their personal device. While the severity of ransomware attacks continues to grow, so do the incentives of cybercriminals to commit such actions.  

As described above the battle against ransomware, as well as ransomware criminals continues, mainly because the victims, whose devices have been compromised by the malware now have the possibility to opt out of paying a ransom.

There is one scheme in particular that continues to prevail against the ransomware gangs, and has now made it possible for 1.5 million people to get out of paying a ransom in order for them to get their files decrypted.

This act alone has prevented a total estimate of 1.5 billion from ending in the hands of cyber criminals. Suffice to say that ransomware attacks still remain a big threat for the internet users, mainly because the victims still pay ransoms. There is one thing, however, that continues to make this kind of malware, and that is precisely the direct effect it imposes on peoples lives.

This fact can be proved by means of the sense of understanding the technology that we are currently dealing with, its severity and sheer complexity for us as users. With all of our personal and financial information being stored online, it has become increasingly easy for those information to be stolen, compromised or even encrypted for different ransoms as is the case with ransomware.

What started as a small cyber-criminal activity, where malicious files were being transferred in outdated data transferring mediums such as floppy disks, has now managed to become a stand-alone system that relies on encrypting user files in their personal computers. This massive ecosystem designed around holding ransom critical user files generates mindblowing sums of millions of dollars.

Types of Ransomware

In recent years, there have been various high-profile ransomware attacks that have primarily targeted financial and medical institutions due to the heavy injection of data-driven solutions that these industries have witnessed. The primary objective of ransomware attacks is to restrict access and disable the device of a victim until a ransom is paid by the victim. Upon failing victim to a ransomware attack, the victim is faced with one of the following options: try and restore the data via means of backup, pay the financial ransom to the attacker, or lose their infected data and resources. However, as many cases have exemplified, the payment of the ransom does not guarantee that the victim will be provided with a decryption key, in many cases, the victim pays the ransom and does not receive the decryption key making the entire process a huge demise.

While there are various types of ransomware, they generally fall under the following two categories:

  • Crypto ransomware: This type of ransomware encrypts the data meaning that if the user is to transfer the data into another device, they would not be able to access them due to the data being encrypted.
  • Locker ransomware: This type of ransomware prevents the victim from using the device by locking it. Though in this case, due to the encryption only occurring to the device, if the data can be removed from that device onto another one, they may be restored.

Enhancing Security for Ransomware Attacks

While the severity of ransomware attacks continues to increase, organizations and institutions have committed substantial resources into developing guides, pieces of training, and solutions that would help organizations and enterprises respond to the growing threat of ransomware attacks. When comparing the two main categories of ransomware, the crypto ransomware is seen as more threatening due to the encryption occurring on the data itself with little chance of retrieving them unless the ransom is paid. While in the locker ransomware, in some cases, the victim may retrieve the encrypted files by transferring the files via a storage device into another computer device. 

The risks of falling prey to a ransomware attack can be determined via various factors that mainly encompass insufficient attention being paid to cybersecurity, utilizing outdated software, lack of patching and backup plans, as well as utilizing devices that are not state-of-the-art. The cybersecurity solutions that experts and professionals recommend in relation to the risk of ransomware include proactive approaches that focus on prevention and mitigation rather than reacting to the incident itself. Some of the best cybersecurity practices that professionals recommend include:

  • Enforce data backup and software patching policies in your organization.
  • Train employees to avoid suspicious links and emails.
  • Raise awareness of the risks of disclosing personal information.
  • Utilize VPN when connecting to private networks
  • Avoid using unknown storage devices such as USB sticks.
  • Promote cyber hygiene in your organization.

At CUNITECH Institute, we provide a range spectrum of professionally developed online courses and programs to help you boost your professional expertise and competencies. We have thought about your needs, and we are more than happy to provide you with Master Certificate in Cybersecurity program. In the Master Certificate in Cybersecurity offered by CUNITECH Institute of New Brunswick, Canada, you will be subjected to fifteen (15) cybersecurity courses that comprise a substantial amount of knowledge and information for becoming a prominent cybersecurity figure in the organization that you operate in. The Master Certificate in Cybersecurity program is provided 100% online and allows you to learn at your own pace and convenience. The courses that are provided in this program are CPD certified by the Institute of Continuing Professional Development, which is the leading institute concerned with continuing professional development in the United Kingdom.

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