Ransomware: A Beginner’s Guide

Ransomware: A Beginner’s Guide

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Ransomware is a common term of today. The 2019 Internet Security Threat Report states that, in 2018, there were a total of 545,231 ransomware attacks globally. China (16.9%), India (14.3%), and the U.S. (13.0%) were the top three targets of these attacks. [1] It is normally understood as a subset of malware – malicious software designed to harm a computer program or file. However, ransomware comes into the picture when a cybercriminal encrypts a file for financial gain in return for the encryption key. The usual motive behind these attacks is monetary profits, especially in cryptocurrency, which helps them keep their identity confidential. Unlike any other types of cyberattacks, in ransomware, victims are notified of being attacked, and the instructions on how to retrieve their data are handed over to them.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malicious software that blocks access of authorized users to their private data until a ransom is paid for its decryption. The initial variants of ransomware date back to the late 1980s. During that time, the ransom was paid through the snail mail. In today’s world, the price for encryption key has shifted to Bitcoins. These demands are sometimes come with a deadline. If the victim fails to pay the amount within the specified period, the data gets damaged or deleted forever.

McAfee confirmed in its August 2019 report that first quarter of the year witnessed 118% growth in ransomware attacks. [2] Thus, making it a multimillion-dollar criminal business.

Types of Ransomware

The two major categories of ransomware are crypto-ransomware and locker ransomware.

1. Crypto Ransomware

Under this popular form of ransomware, cybercriminals encrypt the important files of the victims so that they can’t access them without paying the ransom. The best example of crypto-ransomware is 2017’s WannaCry. The attack infected over 230,000 computer systems globally. The overall financial cost was approximately $4 billion.

2. Locker Ransomware

In locker ransomware, the perpetrator locks the users out of their computer systems instead of encrypting targeted files. After locking them out, the cyber attacker demands ransom to unlock the system. In this way, the user gets prohibited from accessing any software, application, files, or folders.

Apart from these two, ransomware can also be classified as:

  • Scareware: A fake software that usually acts like a useful application, such as a cleaning tool or antivirus. It claims to find an issue on your system and asks for money to resolve it. It sometimes floods your device with annoying alerts and pop-ups or shuts you out of your device.
  • Doxware (or Leakware): As many people save their personal photos and data on their systems, it gets convenient for cyber attackers to get the ransom. So, when cybercriminals threaten to publish the victim’s sensitive data online, the type of ransomware is called Doxware.

How Does It Work?

Ransomware has various delivery systems to sneak into a computer system. One such attack vector is phishing spam – authentic-looking emails containing malicious attachments. After being downloaded and installed, they take control of the system, especially when the victims have administrative access to their computer. NotPetya, encrypting ransomware that overwrote Master Boot Record (MBR) of the victim system internationally. These types of ransomware don’t trick users into downloading them; instead, they take the aggressive approach and exploit security loopholes.

In a few cases, it has been noticed that the cyber attacker impersonates as a professional from a law enforcement agency. In such cases, the perpetrator shuts down the system after informing the victim to be attacked by pirated software or the presence of pornography. Even the ransom appears as a fine to these victims. There’s another variant to this type of ransomware, leakware. For carrying out these types of ransomware attacks, even the cybercriminals need to be aware of complex hacking strategies, which makes crypto-ransomware is the most common type of ransomware.

How to Eliminate Ransomware?

If ransomware is already got your system, here are a few steps that you can follow –

1. Use Decryption Tools

Another way is to use powerful decryption tools that can help you to break the encryption key. The tool works as per the type of ransomware. Sometimes, these tools don’t work as encryption algorithms of ransomware are advanced and more impactful.

2. Restore Clean Backup

Restoring a clean backup is the best option. Keeping a secure backup plan in separate memory storage or cloud. Reformatting the hard disk can help you get rid of ransomware while a clean backup can retrieve your sensitive data. This is the best option unless you are attacked by scareware.

If you have a secure backup, then follow the listed steps:

  • If the infected machine is connected to a network, go offline. It will stop ransomware from affecting other machines. Also, detach it from external drives.
  • If you don’t want to pay the ransom, let the antivirus or anti-malware software clean ransomware. You will also need to reboot your system in Safe Mode. In this way, you won’t get your infected files back. But, after this, the ransomware won’t affect any new files from your system.
  • In some cases of crypto-ransomware, cybercriminals create a copy of the original file and encrypt it while deleting the later. You can use tools to retrieve the original file.

As per the U.S. government report, since January 1, 2016, on an average, there are over 4,000 ransomware attacks daily. [3] To deal with such a common form of cyberattack, organizations need professionals with excellent technical skills. The EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH) allows candidates to gain the required hands-on experience. It exposes them to lab-intensive training which helps them to adopt skills to combat against ransomware and many other cyber threats. The program is declared as the baseline program by the United States Department of Defense for getting into their all Information Assurance (IA) positions. It will give you an in-depth understanding of the five phases of ethical hacking.

Becoming an Ethical Hacker on your checklist?

Make sure you choose the right pathway for your career progression!


[1] https://www.symantec.com/content/dam/symantec/docs/reports/istr-24-2019-en.pdf

[2] https://www.mcafee.com/enterprise/en-us/assets/reports/rp-quarterly-threats-aug-2019.pdf

[3] https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ccips/file/872771/download

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