What is ransomware? Imagine this… You wake up one morning, make yourself a coffee and boot up your laptop. As the thing sparks into life, you take a sip expecting to see your usual desktop screen, with icons and that lovely background picture of you on holiday. What you’re greeted with instead, though, is a skull and crossbones… accompanied by a demand for money in the next 24-hours. You press your keyboard – nothing. All your work, pictures, emails, everything is locked down… possibly gone forever… unless you pay.
Ransomware is malware that gets downloaded onto your device and then encrypts files on your hard drive. This you means you’re no longer able to access those file… and they’re usually exactly the files you want. They can be Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, photos etc. All the stuff you need to run a business on a day to day basis, as well as those wonderful photos etc. that enrich your life!
But how did ransomware come about?
With any kind of criminal activity, it’s all about what motivates in the first place. Some hackers just do it for the kicks, however many more are in it for one thing, and one thing only… money.
As anti-virus companies kept a hold of the coat tails of cyber attackers and their strategies, hackers needed to find new and inventive ways of making their skills earn. No longer wanting to rely on online payment fraud – how old fashioned – they needed to think outside the box. So in walked ransomware…
The general thinking is that it first appeared in 2013. And it seemed to come out of nowhere, hitting hard and fast. Within a very short period of time, countless users were reporting problems with ransomware, and it spread. Many experts were quickly scratching their heads because it seemed impossible to overcome, despite system resets, flashing the BIOS, and swapping hard drives. And what made things worse, was that many of the criminals (at that time) stood true to their pledge – if people paid, they were given the solution. So guess what? Yes… people paid.
Ransomware uses encryption…
But how does ransomware get you? Ransomware uses an unbreakable key to encrypt your files. You are then offered the opportunity to pay the attacker money in return for the decryption key, so you can get at them again. It seems the currency often requested is Bitcoin, but that may not always be the case. Remember, though, you’re dealing with criminals. There is a) no guarantee that if you pay you will get a decryption key that works, and b) no guarantee that other malware isn’t left on your system for future exploitation. Also, bear in mind that if you pay, you’re far more likely to be targeted again in the future. They know you’re up for it.
How does ransomware strike?
It’s often delivered via email (or a compromised website), usually with some sort of attachment which, when clicked, opens a file and downloads the malware. A common approach will be an email attaching a shipping notice, but there are many variations. It has to be said, though, they are getting more sophisticated. And their grammar and spelling are improving – so don’t rely on that! It used to be easy to spot ransomware spam… it isn’t so easy now.
What should I do?
For tips on how to spot it and stop it, we’ll be posting a follow up article soon…
If you get hit with ransomware, the first thing to do, though, is not panic. Pick up the phone and give Blue Sky Computer Solutions a call!