Ransomware – The Cyber-Villain of 2016

One thing is always constant when cybersecurity is in question – nothing is constant. It is a field that changes very rapidly and where the attackers and the security providers are interlocked in an eternal battle for the security of the end user – the Average Joe or Jane.

From time to time, a cyber threat becomes so widespread and so dangerous that it becomes the villain of the year. So far (and there is little hope this will change), the year of 2016 has been decisively ruled by ransomware.

Ransomware 101

Ransomware is, when one scratches the surface, more or less your standard piece of malware which infects a computer or some other device (often an entire system), encrypting the files and making them inaccessible to the user.

It is usually distributed as an update for software that is found on most people’s systems. Adobe Acrobat, Java and Flash Player are among the common examples. Unsuspecting and uneducated users run these “updates”, the ransomware looks for files that are often the most essential such as images and text files and then encrypts them.

The way in which ransomware is so “special” is in the way attackers make money from it. They pretty much blackmail the victim into paying a certain amount of money and getting the decryption keys in return. The victims are directed to websites where they can find out how to make the payment and get access to their system once again.

The system is basically held for ransom and that is where the practice gets its name.

So Many Cases

So far, 2016 has been positively scarred by innumerable types of ransomware that has been used to infect all kinds of systems and victims. The cases in which hospitals were attacked were particularly serious as they often caused normal operations to cease in those facilities. Universities and even police departments were also attacked. We do not even know how many private users and small companies were attacked in the last seven months, but the number has to be huge.

Why so Popular?

Any cybersecurity expert will tell you that ransomware has been around for years. However, there are a few reasons as to why it has become so popular as of recently. The main reason is that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies make it easy for attackers to get paid without getting caught. In addition to this, ransomware is easily bought and sold on the black market and then deployed on victims. It can also be deployed on a number of computers, demanding small sums that the victims will pay simply to avoid having to deal with being offline or having to wipe their system.

How to Defend Against It

The good news is that a bit of education, smart practices, and common sense should be enough to protect you from most ransomware. If you are a private user, make sure to have at least some kind of antimalware software on your computer and that you are very careful about programs and updates that you run on your device. Another way to make ransomware less scary is to do regular backups of your system. This way, when your files are encrypted, you can simply revert to the backed up system.

If you are an organization of some kind, either a business or a non-profit organization of some kind, you will need to do a few more things. For one, you will need to educate your employees and anyone who has access to your system about ransomware and what not to do. Also, you will want the IT company you work with to know how to prevent and deal with ransomware, as well as use the latest in cybersecurity technology. Advanced services like secure remote server monitoring are always an added bonus coming from your IT vendors.

Closing Word

Ransomware has wreaked havoc this year and it does not like it plans to stop anytime soon. Be smart, educate yourself and it should not be something you will have to deal with.

About Dan Radak

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