What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware remains one of the most pervasive cybersecurity threats today (2024 The State of Ransomware). A type of malware, ransomware is malicious software that holds specific information hostage for a price. Usually, this is sensitive or personal information, such as customer accounts, trade secrets, and even health data.

Early forms of ransomware operated on a case-to-case basis, where hackers targeted specific individuals and threatened to lock or expose captured data unless they were paid a certain amount of money. However, it eventually became a lucrative business model, such as Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), where hackers known as operators would sell RaaS kits to individuals with limited technical abilities. This caused an exponential growth in the number of ransomware attacks in the country (It’s worth noting that the United States remains the number 1 most targeted country by ransomware attacks).

It is essential that you understand ransomware, how to detect it, and how to prevent it from happening in your organization, especially now that experts predict that global ransomware damage will exceed $265 billion by 2031.

How does ransomware work?

Most ransomware attacks start with a breach of your computer or network through a successful spear phishing attack. You may have been manipulated to click on a suspicious link or download a malicious file that installs ransomware into your computer.

Once inside, ransomware automatically encrypts certain files on your computer, completely locking you out of your device and preventing access to these files. The ransomware software then displays a message with instructions on how to pay the ransom. One example of this would be the AdamLocker Ransomware.

Some ransomware programs carry a time limit—automatically deleting files after a predetermined period. This adds extra pressure to pay quickly or risk losing your files forever or exposing them to the public. This is usually found in many RaaS kits, with one of the most famous examples being the REvil ransomware.

There is never a guarantee that a hacker will decrypt your files, even if you do pay. However, in most cases, attackers will give you back access to your files. This helps build their reputation in the dark web, and through word-of-mouth, that they follow through with their demands and will incentivize future victims to pay a ransom.

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The new dangers of ransomware

In a recent PwC guide, researchers list four new dangers of ransomware.

1. Hackers are already researching your company.

Every day, ransomware criminals target several organizations to find vulnerabilities in their networks, which they can then exploit. While there are many factors in choosing the “right” target, hackers usually look for companies that a) can pay the ransom, b) have poor security defenses, and c) carry the simplest cost/benefit ratio. Remember that most cybercriminals don’t want to exert much effort for financial gain. If your company costs more to attack than any perceived gain, you become a less viable option to hackers.

2. RaaS kits contribute to the aggressive growth of cyber attacks today.

The World Economic Forum projects that ransomware attacks in the form of RaaS kits will continue to increase in the next few years. This is because RaaS lowers the barriers to entry, allowing cybercriminals to simply buy software without spending time developing it themselves. RaaS operators are also motivated to keep developing kits and selling them to others since they no longer have to deploy their malicious software manually.

3, Cybercriminals are developing more sophisticated ransomware.

Ransomware criminals are becoming more sophisticated and finding new ways to monetize your data. One of the leading avenues for advertising their services is the dark web. If you refuse to pay, these hackers may publish the stolen data on public leak sites, which can be sold to criminal groups.

There is also a new phenomenon of “double extortion.” In this case, hackers demand ransom twice: once for decrypting your files and once to destroy their copies of the stolen data.

4. It is likely that ransomware hackers won’t be punished, even if caught.

Despite the Biden administration firmly pursuing a “focused and integrated effort to counter [ransomware threat]” in the United States, some experts have criticized any effort to apprehend and detain ransomware criminals. There are several contributing factors to this, not least of which is the lengthy judicial process. There are some efforts being made today, including those by the Federal Trade Commission, to ensure that ransomware criminals are caught, given a fair trial, and punished if found guilty.

Still, it may be a good idea to pursue your own ransomware defensive strategies.

Preventing ransomware attacks

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers suggestions for preventing ransomware attacks in your organization.

1. Conduct regular employee training.

It is important that you train all team members in your company, not only your IT team. Hackers target vulnerable people, from rank-and-file employees to C-level management.

2. Implement security protocols.

From ransomware backup to enforcing 2FA, there are many ways to reduce the risk of a ransomware attack. Keep in mind that cybercriminals prefer easy targets. By making it difficult for your IT network to be hacked, you significantly reduce the risk of being targeted.

3. Regularly patch and update software.

Patch management is an essential tool that keeps your IT network healthy by continually updating all software. If possible, look for a software vendor, like NinjaOne, that automates its patch management system so your IT technicians can focus on more strategic projects.

NinjaOne is the #1 patch management software provider in the market today.

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Stop ransomware attacks

There is no absolute way to eliminate the risk of ransomware from attacking your company. However, there are ways to mitigate this threat. An all-in-one ransomware protection tool like Ninja Protect may help defend your managed environments and improve your response speed and resiliency.

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