Think before you click!
This warning has never carried so much importance until now, when a simple click on a ransomware-riddled link may get an unsuspecting victim into so much trouble. The ransomware issue has grown exponentially as cybercrooks have become more creative. A mindless pop-up on a legitimate web page usually also carries the word "download" and once the user clicks on it, he falls prey to the criminal's trap.
The ransomware problem has spread like a plague. Kaspersky Lab recently released a report that between April 2015 and March 2016, 2.3 million computer users and 136,500 mobile users around the globe have encountered ransomware. The top 5 countries affected by computer ransomware are India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Italy, and Germany. As for mobile ransomware, the countries most affected were Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Sooner or later, ransomware could infiltrate other devices that connect to the Internet. Let's talk a bit more about ransomware and what you should do in case you encounter this type of malware.
First Things First: What Is Ransomware?
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with ransomware, it is a type of malware that blocks access to a device (or at least the files contained in it) until the victim has paid a certain amount of money as ransom. Ransomware infiltrates a device when a user clicks on a malicious link that covertly installs the malware on a computer or mobile device.
Surprisingly, the most targeted industry of ransomware attacks is the education sector. A report by security firm BitSight notes that education is the most targeted industry for ransomware attacks, followed by government, health care, energy/utilities, retail, and finance. The education sector also has the highest rate of increase of occurrences as compared to numbers from a year ago.
The most high-profile victims continue to be health care organizations, with the highest ransom known so far standing at $17,000, which was extorted from the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. Medstar Health of the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area faced a similar attack, but is said not to have paid any ransom and contained the situation by temporarily turning off all computers.
Ransomware is undeniably a serious real-world problem that causes much trouble for businesses and individuals alike.
How Does Ransomware Affect Us?
Once a computer or mobile user clicks on a ransomware-riddled link, the malware is clandestinely installed on the device. From there, the cybercriminal wreaks havoc, blocking access to files or to the device itself.
It is important to note that ransomware is affecting not only computers but also mobile devices such as smartphones. One of the advantages of a smartphone is that it works at almost the same level as a basic computer — you can store and use data and files on your handheld device. But this benefit also carries the risk of losing these data and files on your phone as you would on your computer.
You can get ransomware on a smartphone by clicking on a pop-up or by installing malicious applications. Ransomware in smartphones has become rampant. Because many smartphones users are unaware of their potential security risks, they don't take basic precautions such as installing a trusted antimalware app.
Ransom will be requested in different ways. The victim may be asked to wire a specified amount of money, usually through bitcoin or by purchasing a program that will decrypt the blocked data. Ransomware is very effective because it capitalizes on fear. Cybercriminals engaged in ransomware know they can manipulate their victims into paying the ransom to avoid exposing browsing habits and publicly releasing personal documents and photos. Or victims simply worry that losing access to their device or computer would be too much of a hassle.
I Got Hacked: What Should I Do?
You now know what ransomware is and how much trouble it can cause. In the event that you fall victim to a ransomware attack, here are a few things that you should do to thwart cybercriminals.
1. Disconnect your device from the Internet and from your home network.
Disconnecting your device from the Internet could sever cybercriminals' connection with your device — and thwart their efforts to extort money from you. Disconnecting your device from your home network, on the other hand, will prevent the spread of the ransomware to other devices on your network. Simply turning off your device could do the trick. Please note that you might not be able to recover your files if your device has been infiltrated with an encrypting ransomware. It is best that you backup all files on a regular basis using a trusted storage device or service.
2. Alert the authorities.
Law enforcement agencies need to be informed of a ransomware attack. This is a crime, and they should do their part in helping to solve it — if not prevent it. Law enforcers will usually try to trace the criminal's whereabouts, especially if you decide to pay the ransom. However, these crooks have become so creative that they have learned to use appropriate means to ensure payments are made anonymously.
3. To prevent future attacks, install trusted antimalware applications.
The majority of ransomware attacks can be prevented if you have installed a trusted antimalware application on each device. Don't leave things to chance. This isn't a positive learning experience for anyone.
It's Always Good to Have Backups
If you have been hit by ransomware, there's still hope if you have prepared a backup of your files, website, or other online information. All files can now be stored in the cloud. Google Drive and Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft OneDrive, and Apple iCloud are some examples of cloud storage services that readily sync your files from your device to your account in the cloud.
But your backup won't be worth anything if you have chosen a cloud storage provider that can't keep up with the different demands of the market. We have seen some major companies close their cloud storage services due to lack of market share, and some major cloud storage providers have even been breached in the past few years. Instead of relying on a single backup plan for your files, it pays to have a secondary reliable plan. For example, in addition to uploading your files to the cloud, you can create a physical backup using an external drive. Just be sure to perform both backups on a regular basis.
Protecting Your Devices and Your Identity from Attacks
Ransomware really is a big issue right now, and it is best that you employ measures to prevent it from accessing your devices or personal files. Cybercriminals will do everything in their power to take advantage of vulnerable devices, so it is up to each of us to keep them away from our computers, mobile devices, and personal information.
The knowledge and tips shared here will help protect you from the troubles that ransomware brings to the unsuspecting. Learn more about securing your mobile devices and establishing a backup plan with these additional resources.
Always remember, think before you click!
Alex Trinidad is a risk and security advocate in one of the world's leading cybersecurity solution companies. She has committed to providing valuable information on the importance of cybersecurity through diverse topics like endpoint protection for the enterprise and mobile device security.
© 2016 Alex Trinidad. This EDUCAUSE Review blog is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.