November 6, 2016

Ransomware – Ways to Prevent it and Protect from its Threats

Ransomware Prevention: What Can You Do to Protect Yourself

What is it?

We have seen it way too many times and it’s getting worse. It is truly nasty, nasty malware. Back in a day you would get infected, get cleaned up, reinstalled, etc. and wonder often who and why writes and disseminates those viruses? Today, it’s a serious business as the bad guys do it for the $$$. Although it started with indiscriminate campaigns affecting both home users and businesses, realizing the potential for higher profits, cybercriminals are increasingly focusing on the business space. One gets hit with a Cryptolocker or alike, files get encrypted and next things one sees it a banner flashing on the computer, demanding payment in order to decrypt and recover the files. The reason why this type of ransomware is so dangerous is because once cybercriminals get ahold of your files, no security software or system restore can return them to you. Unless you pay the ransom—they’re permanently gone.

How can ransomware be contracted and who’s the most vulnerable?

While lot of people think this type of malware can be primarily contracted by clicking a rouge link in email or opening a zip attachment there are other ways it can infect your systems.

Ransomware gets typically packaged with installation files masquerading as legitimate software updates. They are advertised as updates for Adobe Acrobat, Java and Flash Player. All it takes is a popup prompting you to update Adobe Reader. Once get contract ransomware like infection by not doing anything. Say your browser is out of date or your using older version of Adobe Flash Player or another vulnerable browser plugin a drive-by-attack – even from a legitimate website –  can trigger unintentional download of malicious software (malware) onto your system. Game over.

Malvertising. Mainstream news sites, such as The New York Times, the BBC and MSN have fallen victims to a new rash of malicious ads that attempt to surreptitiously install crypto ransomware and other malware on the computers of unsuspecting visitors this year. The aforementioned news sites, entertainment portals were among the victims of a massive malvertising campaign related to the Angler Exploit Kit. This campaign targeted and effectively infected thousands of users in the U.S. The underlying problem is the malicious ads are delivered by a compromised advertising networks have no control over the code quality of the ads that are published on the websites of their customers.

Targeting mobile devices –  ransomware threats tailored for mobile platform can be spread through SMS messages,  however,  they  can  also  make  it  onto  a  device  by  way  of  untrusted  third-party  app  stores.  An  example  of  this  is Android.Simplocker or Android.Lockdroid.E,  which takes a picture of the victim using the device’s camera and includes the image as part of the very personalized ransom note.

Mac OS X Platform. Though Windows computers are by far the most predominant target of ransomware attacks Mac OS X users are not immune to it anymore. Just  in March 2016 In  March  2016,  a  threat  known  as  KeRanger  (OSX.Keranger) became the first widespread ransomware to target the Mac operating systems.  KeRanger was  disseminated  via compromised version of the installer for the Transmission Bit Torrent client software.


How to protect yourself against ransomware?

It is imperative to prevent ransomware attacks from happening to you in the first place.

As ransomware techniques and malware are omnipresent and continually evolving – and most anti-malware programs rely on databases of rules and malware definitions to detect it – by the time malware is detected it’s often too late. You should focus on two main aspects in particular:

Take preventive approach in the areas of:


  • Robust and current technological prevention measures and controls
  • Invest in state of the art cybersecurity (if you can afford it)
  • Start with an antivirus with active monitoring
  • Multilayered protection: anti-malware and anti-ransomware to thwart advanced malware attacks such as ransomware
  • Raising personnel of awareness: keep your staff informed as most common ways to get infected with ransomware is through social engineering
  • Educate yourself and staff on how to detect phishing campaigns, suspicious websites, and other scams
  • Technical training for employees on dos and don’ts online
  • Finally, stay informed and exercise common sense. If it seems suspect, it likely is.

Develop and implement robust business continuity and disaster recovery plan for your organization

  • Implement multilayered backup solution
  • Intelligent Business Continuity solution
  • Have comprehensive data protection
  • Reliable hybrid backup system
  • Real-time backup and frequently test its effectiveness (restore drills)
  • Cloud storage/backup service with high-level encryption and multiple-factor authentication

Yes, the aforementioned bullets sound a bit like corny tautology, but we can’t stress importance of a comprehensive backup system in place to protect your businesses’ data against ransomware.

While data backup is one of the key pillars of combating ransomware infections there have been cases of ransomware encrypting backups. Therefore, you need a comprehensive backup system like Datto that is capable of malware detection via an automated analysis of the backup images.cryptolocker-ransomware

Pay for to regain access to my data or fight it and report it?

Unfortunately, once you’ve contracted ransomware your files and/or system are likely encrypted and your options are:

  • Pay up the ransom in bitcoin and hope for the positive outcome
  • Suck it up and cut your losses or “close the door”
  • Clean up your system(s) and restore from your reliable backup

There seem to be different school of thought when it comes to dealing with ransomware attacks and infections. It all depends who you ask and what the specific circumstances are. If you talk to security gurus who deal with large and sophisticated networks, utilizing military-grade encryption, the typical answer you’re likely to get is: “Never pay the ransom!”

Even FBI seems to have different stance on the issue. Back in 2015, at Cyber Security Summit 2015, FBI Boston’s Joseph Bonavolonta said that: “paying the ransom is often the easiest path out of ransomware infections.”

The FBI wants companies to know that the Bureau is there for them if they are hacked. But if that hack involves Cryptolocker, Cryptowall, Reveton and other malicious programs that encrypt the contents of a victim’s hard drive, the nation’s top law enforcement agency is warning companies that they may not be able to get their data back without paying a ransom.

“The ransomware is that good,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s CYBER and Counterintelligence Program in its Boston office.  “To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom.”

According to According to FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor the bureau has since changed its official standpoint and now (2016) they not only try to raise the awareness of the seriousness of the problem and very much are against paying the ransom in order to regain access to encrypted files and systems.

The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack. Said Trainor, “Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organization that it will get its data back—we’ve seen cases where organizations 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.” If you become target of such a malware attack, it’s recommended to contact your local FBI field office and report the incident to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Read more on FBI’s website.

What’s our take on the subject?

While the FBI and others may have recommended people just pay the ransom – and it may seem to be the only way under specific circumstance as we’ve seen in media in the recent past –  our professional advice is to do otherwise. Complying with ransomware criminals is not much different from buying “hot merchandise” off a “street vendor” as it only opens up the door and encourages future illicit attacks.

How serious is it?   

Here are a few interesting key points from Symantec’s Ransomware and Businesses 2016 report:

  • The Services sector, with 38 percent of organization- al infections, was by far the most affected business sector. Manufacturing, with 17 percent of infections, along with Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, and Public Administration (both on 10 percent) also figured highly.
  • The average ransom demand has more than doubled and is now $679, up from $294 at the end of 2015.
  • The number of new ransomware families discovered has been steadily increasing since 2011. Last year was a record high, with 100 new families discovered.
  • The advent of ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) means a larger number of cybercriminals can acquire their own ransomware, including those with relatively low levels of expertise.
  • The shift towards crypto-ransomware has continued. All bar one of the new variants discovered so far in 2016 are crypto-ransomware, compared to around 80 percent last year.
  • Between January 2015 and April 2016, the US was the region most affected by ransomware, with 28 percent of global infections. Canada, Australia, India, Japan, Italy, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Malaysia round out the top 10. Around 43 percent of ransom-ware victims were employees in organizations.

Source: Symantec Special Report: Ransomware and Businesses 2016


Ransomware Stats and numbers

  • It’s been estimated that in 2016 it cost U.S. businesses over 75 billion dollars in downtime!
  • 46% of ransomware infections in come via phishing attacks
  • Upward 63% of businesses report a malware attack lead up to business-threatening downtime
  • Nearly 50% SMBs report critical data loss due to ransomware infection
  • According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security the number one solution against ransomware is backup and disaster recovery plan