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What is Ransomware and how does it work?

What is Ransomware?

Topics Covered in this Ransomware whitepaper:

  • How does Ransomware work?
  • How much do Ransomware Attacks Cost?
  • Early Ransomware Attacks
  • Notorious Ransomware Attacks
  • Why Business Need to be Protected from Ransomware
  • Why Antivirus Programs don’s stop Ransomware Attacks
  • What to do if you get Attacked
  • How to stop Ransomware Attacks from Occuring

Ransomware is a thriving marketplace plaguing individuals and businesses alike. It is a malicious and sophisticated malware attack that leverages a computer virus designed to hold a user’s data hostage. While ransomware is not a new technique, it has become increasingly notorious in recent years. Once imagined to be one clever hacker operating from his basement, it has now grown into a booming business.

Ransomware attacks are becoming more prevalent for several reasons. One is that most people today are incredibly dependent on their computers, with precious photos, important files, and more stored on them and are therefore willing to pay to get lost files back. And, in the case of businesses, most literally cannot afford to be locked out of their computers or files for any significant period of time. Considering that ransomware can spread to other PCs connected to a local network, it can be particularly catastrophic for businesses.

Another reason is simply that more and more people are able to access the ability to create and launch a ransomware attack. With the opportunity to become a lucrative business, there’s plenty of incentive to get into it.

There are two basic different types of ransomware. The first is locker ransomware, which locks the user out of their entire system and only unlocks it when the creator receives the ransom he has demanded. The other type is encrypting ransomware, which encrypts the user’s files and where the creator demands a ransom from the victim in exchange for a decrypting key.

How does Ransomware work?

As its name indicates, Ransomware works just like a kidnapping, except that you are paying the ransom for your data instead of for a loved one.

There are several different methods hackers use to launch their ransomware. It often begins when the cybercriminal behind the act designs an email that looks convincingly like a real email, such as a UPS package tracking email that baits the user to click a URL. When the user clicks the link, it launches malware that infects his computer with a virus. Alternately, when users unknowingly visit a compromised or malicious website, ransomware can be downloaded onto their systems. Additionally, it can be spread via infected software apps or infected external storage devices.

This virus then locks or encrypts everything on the user’s computer hard drive, literally locking the user out of all the files on the computer. The user is notified by a screen popping up that informs him that his files will all be destroyed unless he pays a ransom through an online payment to get access to a decrypt key.

Typically, the ransom is made with a specific deadline and if the victim goes past the deadline without paying, either the ransom will increase, or the user’s data is permanently destroyed.

It has become much more prevalent in recent years thanks to the dark web, which has made it possible for people even with very limited technical experience to get their hands on kits known as ransomware as a service (RaaS). Basically, just about anyone can create and launch a ransomware attack if they know where to look for RaaS.

Cybercriminals enjoy the challenge and the thrill of their malicious activities. But, layer on the fact that they can make fast, easy cash and it’s clear that ransomware isn’t going away anytime soon.

How much do Ransomware Attacks Cost?

According to Symantec, the amount of ransom demanded in 2017 was nearly three times what it was in 2016, averaging $1,077. The cybercriminals responsible for these attacks most commonly demand payment via cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, though some other payment methods include Amazon and iTunes gift cards.

However, paying the ransom doesn’t always guarantee you’ll get your decryption key. In fact, a 2016 Kaspersky Security Bulletin indicates that 20 percent of companies that paid a ransom in response to an attack never recovered their files.

Early Ransomware Attacks

According to Symantec, the first known ransomware attack called AIDS Trojan occurred in 1989 for a payment of $189 and was spread via shared floppy discs. It was created and distributed by biologist Dr. Joseph Popp, who claimed to be using the funds collected to fund AIDS research.

In Russia, cases of ransomware attacks began to occur in 2005. In these early years, ransomware was mostly focused on encrypting the most commonly used file types such as  .PDF, .DOC, .XLS, .JPG. While ransomware attacks originally were prevalent in Russia, they soon moved into Europe before the infections began to spread across North America.

The first ransomware strand to use RSA encryption in the mid-’00s was called Archiveus. Very difficult to decode, an RSA encrypted file requires a specific alpha-numeric string of digits to unlock.

Some Notorious Ransomware Attacks

Reveton

In the early ’10s, a type of ransomware known as Reveton, or “Police Ransomware” packages hit the scene. These police trojans impersonated law enforcement agencies with notification pages informing the victims that they were caught doing illicit activities online and demanded the payment of “fines”. Reveton tracked the geolocation of its victims in order to know which local law enforcement agency to impersonate.

CryptoLocker

Named after its ability to encrypt files as well as lock the files, CryptoLocker appeared in 2013. At its peak, CryptoLocker was infecting about 150,000 victims monthly.

This threat was powerful because even if the victim was able to delete the malware, they would still have to pay the ransom to receive a decryption key for their encrypted files. A spam campaign was identified to be the cause behind the CryptoLocker infections, which used a small file size and simple downloading function.

While CryptoLocker was taken down by a white-hat campaign, CryptoLocker got the foot in the door for variations of file-encryption ransomware, such as the widely-known imitators CryptoWall and TorrentLocker.

TeslaCrypt

TeslaCrypt originally targeted gamers of several specific and extremely popular games: Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and World of Tanks. TeslaCrypt targeted the ancillary files associated with those video games that are commonly stored on the local hard drive.

In 2015-2016 TeslaCrypt was responsible for nearly half of all ransomware attacks. Surprisingly in 2016, the cybercriminals behind TeslaCrypt not only provided the master decryption key publicly, ending the threat, they even apologized.

SimpleLocker

In late 2015, the Android platform was targeted by SimpleLocker, the first Android-based attack to encrypt files. Additionally, it was the first ransomware to use a Trojan downloader mimicking a legitimate app to deliver the ransomware. The majority of victims were infected when they attempted to download porn or other shady apps from sources other than the Google Play store.

WannaCry

In mid-May of 2017, the WannaCry worm literally made ransomware life-threatening when it shut down hospitals in Ukraine and striking Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Originally spread through malicious Dropbox URLs embedded in spam, WannaCry spread rapidly through a number of computer networks by infecting a Windows computer and encrypting files on the PC’s hard drive. Considered one of the worst ransomware attacks of all time, it was detected in more than 115 countries.

NotPetya

The Petya ransomware package originated in 2016 and was a standard package aimed at extracting Bitcoin from its victims. An updated version—named “NotPetya” to signify its advanced state from its predecessor—became prevalent while the world was still reeling from the WannaCry outbreak.

It is widely speculated that NotPetya was actually a state-sponsored Russian cyberattack on Ukraine, disguised as a ransomware attack.

Cerber

Cerber appeared in March 2016 and was notorious for its creepy voice component, which reads out the ransom message. It was responsible for an attack on millions of Microsoft Office 365 users who were potentially exposed.

GoldenEye

The GoldenEye ransomware attacks reported in Ukraine in late June of 2017, targeted Kiev’s largest airport, Ukraine’s national bank, and its state power company. Unlike most ransomware just encrypting files, GoldenEye attacked the entire computer preventing the system from booting up by encrypting the Master File Table. When the victim attempted to reboot their machine, a skull and crossbones splash screen appeared displaying the ransom demand.

Locky

Locky was especially notorious because it encrypted not just data files but also Volume Snapshot Service (VSS) files to stop victims from attempting to restore files using it. It also encrypted Bitcoin wallets. Its name comes from the fact that while encrypting the user’s files, it also renamed them to have the extension “.locky”.

Why Business Need to be Protected from Ransomware

Once cybercriminals realized that the real money was not in targeting individual home users, but in targeting companies, because of the major disruptions an attack would cause, the shift moved in that direction. In fact, nearly 70 percent of companies pay the ransom to recover their data.

Complex networks in businesses are often more vulnerable and many businesses are reluctant to report attacks because they fear it would damage their brand and cause customer losses.

Why Antivirus Programs don’s stop Ransomware Attacks

Antivirus software can’t detect ransomware because it is designed to stay hidden. While Antivirus programs can stop any known ransomware from attacking your business by reading the signature of the known ransomware, it can’t protect your business new ransomware attacks. Because stealth is critical to ransomware being a lucrative business, these cybercriminals are employing talented developers to ensure that their attacks remain undetected.

What to do if you get Attacked

Step 1: Disconnect from the network and stop backing data up immediately. Disconnect the infected machine from the network immediately after the infection is discovered.

Step 2: Remove ransomware and clean computers of malicious software. If you have a good restore, remove all traces of the ransomware using antivirus software or an appropriate malware remover before proceeding.

Step 3: Restore from the most recent clean backup. Provided  that  you  maintain  consistent  backups,  locate  a  clean  version  of  the  files,  and  restore  to  your  most  recent  backup  set.

How to stop Ransomware Attacks from Occuring

There are two key ways to combat ransomware and keep it from affecting your business.

The first is to have your staff educated on what to watch for and trained to be diligent since most ransomware attacks are launched via phishing emails. Train your associates to avoid opening unverified emails or clicking links embedded in unverified emails. Provide employees with examples of what phishing emails look like, so that the next time they receive an email from “FedEx” with a “tracking link” for a “package” they know nothing about, they will think twice before clicking the link and send it to the helpdesk.

Your associates should also adhere to such best practices such as keeping macros turned off in the Microsoft Office suite of software and avoiding the use of browser plug-ins including Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java, and Silverlight except on an ad-hoc basis.

Secondly, evaluate your technical infrastructure and the way your IT pros build and maintain that infrastructure. With a solid, cloud-based business continuity plan, you can successfully avoid ransomware damage for your company.

Most security vendors are constantly working on updates to catch and stop ransomware before it infects your files. If you use antivirus or anti-malware services, be sure you are running the most recent versions of these products and do regular updates. And, setting up a next-generation firewall can combat numerous threats—in fact, some can even detect zero-day threats before they infiltrate the system.

If your business does become the victim of an attack, it can be a manageable event when your data is backed up and easily recoverable.

For more information on ransomware, download Evolve IP’s Ultimate Guide to Ransomware.

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Compliance is a way to do business … not an afterthought when clients need it.

At Evolve IP we have a dedicated compliance and security practice and work with two of the world’s top 3rd-party compliance auditors, Grant Thornton and Ernst & Young, to enable customers to extend their compliance to our fully audited cloud. This focus allows us to deliver the documentation and assurances that other’s simply cannot including HIPAA / HITRUST, PCI-DSS (all 12 sections), ITAR, SOC 2/3 and more. The Compliance CloudTM includes true client isolation, encryption in transit and at rest, private VLANs, firewalls and dozens of other security measures.

 
 
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  • We have been Evolve DaaS clients for just about 2 years. What execs really need to know is how much productivity DaaS brings to an organization. We have estimated that each employee saves 10 minutes a day in startup and shutdown time. Probably another 5 minutes a day in work from home productivity - i.e. more likely to log in from their home PC than if they had to carry a laptop home every night and no clunky VPN or Citrix session to dissuade them from getting on.

    So, 15 minutes a day, that is 3% of their day back. 3% of an $80,000 a year employee is $2,500.

    DaaS has a 300% return, with no capital at risk. That is what I would tell your execs. Feel free to ask questions.

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Our analyst-acclaimed solutions are built on a world-class, compliant architecture that leverages the blue-chip technologies organizations already know and trust.

Gartner

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Evolve IP is proud to have achieved the honor of being HITRUST CSF certified! Certification to the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF) affirms that all of Evolve IP’s cloud computing and cloud communications services adhere to the strictest security standards for electronic protected health information (PHI). The HITRUST security standard was developed by and for the healthcare industry as a means of going above and beyond the compliance requirements of HIPAA.

The HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF) was developed to address the multitude of security, privacy and regulatory challenges facing healthcare organizations. The HITRUST CSF was developed by healthcare and IT professionals to provide an efficient and prescriptive framework for managing the security requirements inherent in HIPAA. HITRUST CSF rationalizes healthcare-relevant regulations and standards into a single overarching security framework. An important part of the “What is HITRUST” answer is understanding that the CSF is risk-based and compliance-based so that organizations can tailor the security control baselines and vendor management programs that they follow based on their specific organization type, size, systems, and regulatory requirements.

HIPPA

The Privacy regulations of the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require health care providers, organizations, and their business associates, develop and follow procedures that ensure the confidentiality and security of protected health information (PHI) when it is transferred, received, handled, or shared. This applies to all forms of PHI — paper, oral, and electronic, etc. Those who fail to adhere to HIPAA can suffer from huge fines climbing into the millions of dollars for major violations.

The Compliance Cloud™ fully enables covered entities and their business associates subject to HIPAA regulations to leverage a secure environment to process, maintain, and store protected health Information (PHI) featuring among other controls.

SSAW 16 Service Organization Control II (SOC 2)

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Forbes

While Forbes regularly features coverage and recognition about Evolve IP, they've most recently recognized Evolve IP as being the "Best Cloud Computing Companies And CEOs To Work For In 2017".  They've ranked Evolve IP in the Top 3 just behind Google and Microsoft in the Cloud Infrastructure classification.  (Feb 2017). Forbes  also recently recognizes Evolve IP for bringing Singer Equipment Corporation, a mainstream business based in PA, into the cloud by means of unified communication. (Sept  2017). Last year, Forbes recognized Evolve IP's survey of 1,080 executives citing that the number one reason to go to the cloud is the same reason that it is avoided. (Mar 2016).

Unified Communications Product of the Year

TMC and Internet Telephony Magazine have named Evolve IP’s unified communications platform as a 2017 Unified Communications Product of the Year Award winner. This marks the 6th time Evolve IP has been honored with this prestigious award and follows a series of product innovations that have allowed the company to rapidly expand its international coverage.

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Inc.

Inc. magazine has recognized Evolve IP in the 34th annual Inc. 500|5000, an exclusive listing of the nation's fastest-growing private companies. The list will be unveiled in the September issue of Inc.

The story of this year's Inc. 5000 is the story of great leadership. In an incredibly competitive business landscape, it takes something extraordinary to take your company to the top," says Inc. President and Editor-In-Chief Eric Schurenberg. "You have to remember that the average company on the Inc. 5000 grew nearly six-fold since 2012. Business owners don't achieve that kind of success by accident.

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CSA STAR

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Evolve IP has been ranked for the second consecutive year on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500™, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and energy tech companies in North America – both public and private. Technology Fast 500 award winners are selected based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2012 to 2015. The list is a veritable Who’s Who of technology that has included tech companies like Google, VMware and Facebook.

Technology Fast 500 provides a ranking of the fastest growing technology, life sciences, and energy the companies – both public and private – in North America. Technology Fast 500 award winners are selected based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth during the period from 2012 – 2016.

Red Herring

Red Herring has named Evolve IP as one of the Top 100 Companies in North America.  Red Herring’s Top 100 recognizes the leading and most promising private companies from around the world. Among the over 20 criteria used to analyze companies for the award, Evolve IP was noted for its financial performance, technological innovation, customer footprint, the DNA of its founders and addressable market.

Red Herring selects the award winners for North America from approximately 1,200 privately financed companies each year in the US and Canada. Since 1996, Red Herring has kept tabs on these organizations and its editors were among the first to recognize that companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Salesforce.com, YouTube, Palo Alto Networks and eBay would change the way we live and work.

Entrepreneur

Evolve IP has been recognized as one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” in Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index, a study involving a comprehensive analysis of private companies in America. Based on this study forged by Entrepreneur, Evolve IP is recognized as a company that exemplifies growth, not just in top and bottom line, but in sustainability and the ability to achieve lasting success.

According to Entrepreneur, after evaluating approximately 10,000 U.S. based firms, the team of editors and researchers behind the E360 Performance Index collected more than 250 pieces of data from the finalists, focusing on growth drivers and challenges, goal setting, resource allocations, and reward systems. The analysis uncovered a class of leading companies, including Evolve IP, whose continued success is largely based on superior value creation for their customers, building an adaptive learning culture, and aggressive geographic expansion—placing them amongst the most dynamic firms in America today.

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