The ransomware Trojans are among the most feared cyber threats ever invented. The terms ransomware consists of two parts: ‘ransom’ and ‘malware’. As you probably suspect, this type of harmful applications is designed specifically to extort money from the victim in the form of a ransom. These dangerous programs enter stealthily, after which they use complex encryption algorithms like RSA-4096 and AES-256 to make the user’s data unreadable. These ciphers change the structure of the majority of files, which are not associated with important processes of the Operating System (OS). Once the task has been completed successfully, you will notice error messages whenever you attempt to open your precious work-related documents, personal photos, essential databases, videos or simple text notes. Since the modification of the structure of the affected files happens at a very deep level, it may be impossible to unlock them for free. And exactly this fact makes the ransomware attacks so popular in 2016.
Which Are the Most Popular Ransomware Threats for 2016 and How Much Money Did They Steal from the Victims?
According to the data, the ransomware attacks in 2016 are on the rise. There is an increase in the infection rates both against the computers of the home users and the machines of the companies. Even the Android-based systems are not spared from the attacks – ransomware like Dogspectus and the variations of the Fusob Trojan are trying to sneak into your mobile devices. The most notable representatives of the Windows-oriented encrypting cyber threats in 2016 are:
- CryptXXX 3.0
Some of these aggressive Trojans have been present for years. Their developers are upgrading and improving the cyber threats on a regular basis. As soon as the security specialists add the definitions of the ransomware in the databases of their anti-malware applications, the hackers make minor changes to the code to evade detection. Not only are the crooks creating more and more encoding Trojans but are spreading them far more aggressively than the last year. For the first quarter of 2016, the infection rates are shocking – on average, 50 000 PC users get infected with ransomware per month. January, February and March 2016 brought very high profits for the developers of encoding software – the total sum is believed to exceed $200 million. On average, the price of the ransom is $679, which is twice as high as the average ransom in 2015 ($294). In some cases, like the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center attack in February, the cyber criminals managed to extract $17 000 or more with a single strike. Unfortunately, the expectations are that the popularity of ransomware will only grow.
Why in 2016 Ransomware Has Become the Preferred Choice for Thousands of Hackers?
Very few types of harmful applications may cause such substantial damage as the file-encoding Trojans. The majority of malicious applications can easily be deleted with a credible security program. These applications can usually delete ransomware as well, but there is one very important aspect that you should take into consideration: the removal of the parasite may not be enough to fix the damage. The encryption algorithms mess up the file structure itself, which means that even if your PC has no traces of the malware left, these files will remain inaccessible. Exactly this essential moment is the reason the hackers often receive the desired ransom from the victims. Once all of your files have been encrypted, you may find yourself in a very unpleasant situation. If you don’t pay the ransom, you may lose the data forever. However, acting as the culprits encourage you to is not the recommended solution. There is absolutely no guarantee that even if you pay a few hundred dollars, you will receive access to the locked photos, documents, videos and projects. The hackers often scam the victims after receiving the payment. Sometimes the promised decryption key doesn’t work properly, while in other cases the cyber criminals don’t send it at all.
The hackers rely mainly on the Bitcoin virtual currency to collect their fees. There are more than a few reasons for this choice. First, this platform is not supervised by any institution like a central bank. This fact makes it much more difficult to find adequate information regarding the transactions. The hackers typically use a complex network of dozens or even hundreds of interconnected e-wallets, which may be spread across the world. As soon as your money goes to the first one, it will be redirected to the second, third, and so on until the traces are gone. This tactic has been so efficient that even the authorities are struggling hard to locate the end recipient.
The second reason for the choice of Bitcoin and the analogical cryptocurrencies concerns the refund policy. These platforms don’t allow refunds under any circumstances. The only option to get your money back is if the receiver permits it, which, as you probably know, will not happen. So if you give your cash to the hackers, you may lose both the money and your files. Moreover, your money will prove that these attacks and the efforts associated with them are worth it. As a consequence, the hackers will continue to create more aggressive and more stealthy ransomware Trojans.
Which Are the Most Efficient Methods to Protect Yourself from the Ransomware Attacks?
It is essential to know the most common distribution methods for ransomware to prevent the infection. The number one choice is the spam email campaigns. With very little efforts the hackers can send the payload of advanced cyber threats to thousands of users at once. All they need to do is hack some site’s database beforehand or buy a list of emails, belonging to real people. From this moment on, it is all statistics – if they send ransomware to 1000 people, at least 5-10% of these users will get infected. The number may be even higher, depending on the content of the message. The culprits may try to disguise their malware as an innocent text document that requires the recipient to enable macros. The hackers are becoming more and more ingenious when trying to shock the unsuspecting person. You may expect to receive alerts about issues with your PayPal account, notifications about a lawsuit against you for downloading illegal content or job offers about promising positions. Just clicking on the attached file may trigger the infection.
Other distribution ways may involve exploit kits like Magnitude or Nuclear. These software kits rely on system vulnerabilities to spread malicious codes and activate them automatically without the knowledge of the user. Even if you are tech-savvy, you may still not understand in time that your system’s security has been breached. Sometimes the malicious applications may seem to be safe updates for popular programs like Adobe or Java. You may get redirected towards shady sites that offer such fake newer versions in case you click on some corrupt links or browse some suspicious porn sites.
Since the cyber criminals create new tactics on a daily basis, there is no 100% certain way to protect yourself from ransomware on your own. For this reason, the specialists advise you to keep a reliable anti-malware solution. These applications can intercept incoming dangerous files and block them before they cause trouble. As a result, even if you click on some corrupt link or try to download an infected file, your PC may not become encrypted.
What to Do in Case You Are Already Infected with Some Ransomware?
If the first thing to see when you launch your OS is a threatening lockdown message, you should remember one thing – don’t panic. The hackers try to put the victim under pressure in order to make him act rashly. They usually set a countdown timer for 72 or 24 hours. When it reachers 0, the decryption key may get destroyed forever. The proper solution is not to follow the instructions of the hackers. If they don’t receive the expected ransom, they may feel discouraged. For the exact same reason, the majority of governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances. You should first clean your computer from the ransomware. The best way to achieve it is to use a dedicated application or else you may miss some of the harmful files. Once the dangerous program is gone for good, you should try to find a free decryptor for the specific ransomware. While it may not work properly, you should still give it a try. However, remember to check only legitimate pages for a solution or else you may be tricked into downloading some other malware that may cause further damage.
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