Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks users' access to computer systems and encrypts files, giving attackers control over any personal information stored on victims' devices. The cyber criminals then threaten victims to keep access to their files/computer blocked or reveal their sensitive data unless they pay the ransom.
Constantly evolving, ransomware has become increasingly sophisticated since its first documented appearance in 1989. While early versions typically did not encrypt data, modern ones use cryptographic methods to encrypt files, making them inaccessible. Ransomware encryption can also spread to hard drives, completely blocking the computer's operating system, preventing access to data. The main goal is to force the victim to pay for decryption, most often in digital currencies such as Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies that are difficult to trace. However, there is no guarantee that after payment the attackers will fulfill their obligations.

Ransomware has grown in popularity over the past decade, becoming one of the most common financially motivated cyber attacks. It is currently one of the most well-known threats in the malware world.
How to become a victim
Phishing, as a recurring method of social engineering, has become one of the most popular methods of spreading malware in the context of ransomware. Victims are usually infected through malicious email attachments or links imitating real ones. Even one infected computer on a network can compromise the security of an entire organization.
Exploit Kits are sets of malicious tools and pre-written program code. They exploit vulnerabilities in software and operating systems to spread malware. Systems with outdated software are especially vulnerable to such attacks.
Malvertising involves the use of advertising networks to distribute ransomware.
How to protect yourself from ransomware?
Regularly create backup copies of your files so that you can restore them in case of deletion or potential infection.
Be careful when opening attachments in emails and clicking on links. Avoid clicking on ads and visiting sites from unknown sources. Or use sandboxes to open them.
Install reliable antivirus software and update your applications and operating system regularly.
Avoid files with .exe, .vbs and .scr extensions as they may be potentially dangerous.
Avoid visiting websites that do not use the HTTPS protocol (i.e. URLs starting with "https://"). However, remember that some malicious sites may also use HTTPS, so having this protocol does not guarantee security.
Use spam filters. Cybercriminals send millions of malicious emails to random organizations and users, but an effective spam filter that constantly adapts to new threats can prevent more than 99% of these messages from reaching employee email and messaging accounts.
Upskill yourself, your staff, and your everyday users. Increasing awareness of ransomware is fundamental to improving cybersecurity.
Ransomware examples
There are a huge number of examples of Ransomware and it would take an extremely long time to list them; let’s note a few of the most notorious representatives:
  • Year of release: 2017.
  • Criminals: Shadow Brokers
  • Affected Persons: Microsoft Windows Users.
  • Estimated losses: $4 billion.
  • Current status: Still active, but decryption key available.
WannaCry spread like a digital epidemic in May 2017 and took the files of 250,000 Microsoft Windows users in 150 countries hostage. A hacker group called Shadow Brokers used the EternalBlue hack to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows computers. US security experts said North Korea was involved in the attack, but no evidence was provided
  • Year of release: 2017.
  • Criminals: Sandworm
  • Affected organizations: enterprises and government agencies in Ukraine, Germany and France.
  • Estimated losses: $10 billion.
  • Current status: Transcript available
In March 2016, the Petya ransomware virus appeared, which infected the master boot record of computers running the Windows operating system. In June 2017, a variant of Petya called NotPetya was released, which differed from the original Petya in two main aspects. Firstly, it used the EternalBlue hack to infect systems, and secondly, it was modified in such a way that its effect was irreversible.

NotPetya was alleged to have been a politically motivated attack directed against Ukraine by the Russian military establishment. More than 80% of the companies affected by the attack were located on Ukrainian territory. Even the radiation control system at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was temporarily paralyzed.

The malware was distributed through a backdoor introduced during a software update by the Ukrainian company ME Doc. NotPetya was the most destructive ransomware attack, resulting in huge financial losses estimated at $10 billion.
Based on our experience, we can note that Ransomware remains one of the most serious threats in the field of cybersecurity, constantly evolving and taking on new forms. Despite the efforts of law enforcement agencies and security companies such as AML Crypto, this form of malware continues to threaten both individual users and corporate networks around the world.

To protect yourself from ransomware attacks, it is important to update your software, use antivirus programs, regularly back up your data, and educate users about internet safety. Only through the joint efforts of users, companies and government agencies can the threat posed by ransomware be significantly reduced.

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