Ransomware attacks peaked in 2021 and continue to be the biggest cyber threat to organizations. Microsoft confirms that digital extortion is the number one challenge facing cybersecurity specialists in 2022.
Ransomware attacks don’t only target mere individuals. Small businesses, corporations, and government agencies are proving a far richer quarry. They’re more likely to pay the ransom to resume operations and protect their reputation.
The rise of ransomware-as-a-service means even an amateur attacker can buy proven tools to run their campaigns and extort millions of dollars from organizations.
Ransomware Groups Have Evolved
Cybercriminals have evolved from extorting ordinary people for a few hundred dollars to holding entire industries hostage. They use multiple extortion methods to overwhelm and disrupt, causing nearly irreparable damage. A typical ransomware attack against an organization tends to play out in 4 stages:
- Encryption: The attacker locks the victim out of their systems and networks until they pay the ransom.
- Denial of Service (DoS): Services and websites are shut down to prevent users from connecting to the organization’s network and services.
- Loss of data: Cybercriminals steal data and threaten to release it to third parties unless the ransom is paid. They often add a timer to apply additional pressure on victims to make the payment quickly.
- Harassment: The attacker contacts anyone connected to the organization. Employees, business partners, and users are notified about the security breach and even threatened. In some cases, the attacker demands smaller sums from the individuals.
Attackers may sometimes bribe employees to gain access to critical systems. In 2020, a Russian man tried to bribe a Tesla employee with $1 million to help him steal company secrets. The plan was to extort Tesla or release the data online. A slew of other sophisticated ransomware incidents suggests the tactic has evolved well beyond phishing emails and obvious malware links.
Countering a Ransomware Threat
Ransomware groups are considered a national and international security threat due to the havoc they wreak on businesses and crucial infrastructure. To counter this threat, the US government has created a multi-agency task force known as the Joint Ransomware Task Force.
Led by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in cooperation with the Department of Justice, the new initiative aims to coordinate efforts to inform and warn organizations about the threat of ransomware. On the other end, the DoJ will focus on the illegal use of cryptocurrency, following the money through the blockchain to bring cybercriminals to light.
While US law enforcers and prosecutors are working together with their European counterparts to dismantle cybercriminal infrastructure, it’s up to each person to be aware of the threat and learn to protect themselves and their organizations. Anyone can fall victim to a complex extortion scheme, even you.
How to Protect Your Data from Ransomware Attacks
To protect your privacy and avoid falling prey to cybercriminals, be sure to:
1. Back up your data frequently
Ransomware groups lock you out of your systems and encrypt your data. They rely on you paying them to regain access to your files. If you maintain a backup in the cloud or on a separate device, the attackers can’t extort you. You can always reset your compromised device to its factory settings and recover your data from the backup.
2. Use a firewall and reliable antivirus
Ransomware attacks usually involve malware. The attacker infects your device with a virus that locks you out of your system and steals your data. You need a firewall to block most malicious software and a powerful antivirus to run malware scans and remove suspicious files.
3. Don’t fall for phishing scams
Read your emails carefully and don’t click on suspicious links. Cybercriminals infect your devices by convincing you to download a file with malware. This is usually done through email, but some ransomware groups also resort to phone calls and text messages. Don’t share your private information and don’t download anything even remotely suspicious.
4. Use a VPN
A VPN will add an extra layer of protection to your devices. Use CyberGhost VPN to benefit from system-wide, military-grade encryption and public WiFi security. A VPN alone won’t stop ransomware, but it will make you a lot less vulnerable by hiding your identity and online activity.