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Ransomware Explained: How It Works And How To Prevent It

Last Updated : 26 Jul, 2021
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According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the rise in ransomware attacks is expected to cost companies $20 billion by 2021. Nowadays, ransomware attacks are on the rise, and the most common type of attack is phishing. Ransomware attackers can infect victims’ PCs with viruses through email phishing and other methods, resulting in data encryption and subsequent ransom demands.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malicious software that prevents computer users from accessing their data by encrypting it. Cybercriminals use it to extort money from individuals or organizations whose data they have hacked, and they hold the data hostage until the ransom is paid.

If the cybercriminals do not pay the ransom within the specified time frame, the data may leak to the public or be permanently damaged. One of the most serious issues that businesses face is ransomware.

Businesses, individuals, and government organizations have all been victims of ransomware attacks since the mid-2000s, with the recovery of their systems costing large sums of money.

How does a computer get infected with ransomware?

One of the most commonly used tactics is phishing. Attackers spread malicious content using email, social media, advertisements, and website pop-ups, among other methods. Let’s take some of these: 

  • Email Phishing: Cybercriminals use this approach to distribute ransomware all the time. Emails are carefully constructed to mislead the victim into clicking a link or opening an attachment. The malicious file that attacks the system is contained in the link or attachment, and when clicked, it will gain access to system files and data. When malware infects a computer, it encrypts the files and, in some circumstances, locks down the machine’s owner or users. Other systems (computers and servers) connected to the network will be infected with more sophisticated ransomware.
  • Website Pop-ups: When you click on malicious pop-ups on random websites, ransomware can infect your machine. Despite the fact that not all website pop-ups are malicious, hackers use them to extort money from their victims. Pop-ups from ransomware attackers often prompt you to update a program on your computer or make you believe that your system is infected with malware and that you need to click a link to remove it.
  • Remote Control Desktop: Remote Control Desktop was designed to allow IT managers to access machines remotely for work purposes. Despite the fact that it was set up with good intentions, hackers have turned it into a money-making scheme. Port 3389 is used for desktop control. Since port 3389 is open on many systems, hackers can gain access to systems they identify as vulnerable. They will gain access by trying to log in as administrators using brute-force methods. Cyber ‚Äč‚Äčthieves will have full access to the computer and will be able to encrypt any data as soon as they become an administrator. Some cybercriminals go even further, disabling endpoint protection or destroying Windows file backups.
  • Drive-By Downloads: This method of compromising a user’s machine occurs without the user’s knowledge- ransomware attacks occur when a user visits a hacked website. The user does not need to click on anything before the virus spreads. Drive-by downloads on legal websites are commonly used by cybercriminals, especially if the website is susceptible. On the other hand, other cybercriminals create a website instead of breaking into one. When a visitor accesses an actual website that has been infected with malware, they will be redirected to another site that cybercriminals completely control. Once the user’s PC is hacked, a ransom letter will appear requesting money for system unblocking and file decryption.

How to stop ransomware

  • Avoid Unverified Links: If you want to be safe, this is important. Don’t open emails from unknown senders or those you haven’t subscribed to. Also, stay away from unknown websites.
  • Frequently Update Your Operating System and Software: Keeping your operating system and software up to date can prevent ransomware. If you update to the latest security fixes, you will benefit from having them. This will result in cybercriminals having a harder time finding vulnerable software.
  • Make a System Backup: If your data is lost or compromised, having a system backup can save you a lot of pain. Have it backed up both locally and in the cloud. This is a simple way to ensure that cybercriminals don’t get over your personal information. If your machine is infected with a ransomware virus, the backup will allow you to restore the system. Then, using your updated backup data, you can fix it. Backing up your data in the cloud adds an extra layer of security.
  • Restrict Access To Your Data: This is accomplished by network isolation, which is important in the face of various cyber threats. Hackers are unable to gain easy access to data even when access is restricted. In the case of a ransomware virus attack, an isolating network protects the data.
  • Disable vulnerable plug-ins: Hackers can easily damage your system by using plug-ins like Flash. They can use them to infect your machine and launch an attack. It exposes all your information which can be used to extort money from you. Keeping your plug-ins up to date is important to keep your system safe from virus attacks.
  • File Extensions: From reputable sources, all documents/files must have the appropriate viewable file extensions. It is important to keep the system secure from downloading irrelevant documents from unknown sources.
  • In the Workplace, Ransomware Awareness: Most ransomware virus attacks are caused by human errors. The answer is to ensure that workers are aware of the problem and are adequately trained to prevent and respond to it. Employees should be informed about the many hacking tips available. They should be aware that clicking on unfamiliar links or viewing harmful information can have serious consequences. All links and attachments should be double-checked and the source should be thoroughly checked before access. Furthermore, ransomware virus attacks can take many different forms. Phishing is only one of many types of attacks. Employees working from home must be connected to the public or open Wi-Fi. Hackers can easily gain access to these and launch attacks on your machine.
  • Create Strong Passwords: Weak passwords are very easy to crack. When creating a password,  don’t include information that’s easily available, such as your date of birth. If you use the same password for all your accounts, then hackers can gain access to your system. Finally, when creating passwords, avoid using easily accessible information. Some passwords contain information that can be easily obtained through the victim’s social media accounts. These are vulnerable, and even a novice hacker will be able to detect them in no time. As a result, businesses and institutions must implement a strong password policy to keep hackers out.

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