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What is ransomware in cyber security?

Ransomware Cyber Security

Ransomware is malicious software that uses encryption to hold a victim’s data for ransom. The sensitive data of a person or business is encrypted to prevent unauthorized access to files, applications, and databases. Access is then requested in exchange for a ransom. 

Typically designed to migrate throughout a network and attack file servers and databases, ransomware can quickly cripple a company’s operations. It is an increasing issue, generating billions in payments to hackers and causing considerable harm and costs to businesses and government agencies.

Individuals, businesses, and organizations, including hospitals, educational, and government institutions, are common ransomware targets. Cryptocurrency and locker ransomware are the two most common types of ransomware.

However, ransomware can take place in several forms. Utilizing a phishing scam is one of the most prevalent ransomware attack techniques. A carefully crafted email encourages the receiver to open or download an attachment. This activity uploads vector ransomware that can enter a computer network and lock users out of their machines, the network, or any connected device.

Why a ransomware attack?

The objective of ransomware is to persuade the target to pay a ransom to decrypt their data. Typically, the perpetrators of ransomware attacks will request cryptocurrencies as payment. This is because it is generally untraceable. Once payment is confirmed, the victim gets an unlock code or decryption file that provides access to the information on the server, mobile device, or computer network.

How does ransomware Work

Malware uses asymmetric encryption. It’s a cryptography method that encrypts and decrypts a file using a pair of keys. The attacker generates a unique pair of public and private keys for the target, with the private key used to decrypt files saved on the attacker’s server. 

Although recent ransomware studies have shown that this is not always the case, the attacker only releases the private key once a ransom is paid. Decrypting the files being held for ransom without the private key is practically impossible.

There are numerous variants of ransomware. Typically, ransomware (including other forms of malware) are disseminated through email spam messages or targeted attacks. The malware needs an attack method to install itself on an infected system. After establishing presence, the malware remains on the system pending when the objective is accomplished.

After an attack is successful, ransomware installs and executes a malicious program on the victim system. This binary then searches and encrypts sensitive files, including Microsoft Word documents, pictures, database files, etc. Additionally, the ransomware may exploit network systems flaws to spread to other systems and potentially across large enterprises.

Once data are encrypted, ransomware urges the user to pay a ransom within 24 to 48 hours to decrypt them; else, the contents will be lost permanently. If there is no backup of the data or if the backups have been encrypted, the victim must pay the ransom to recover their personal files.

Ransomware Attack

Who is a target of a ransomware attack?

Ransomware can affect everyone, including individuals, businesses, organizations, and governments. Cybercriminals are looking for people willing to pay a ransom in exchange for access to their data, mobile devices, servers, or computer networks. Cybercriminals are unconcerned about who they assault with ransomware. 

Since ransomware is so easy to employ for cybercriminals, everybody in an organization must be aware of the risks and dangers. You can use ransomware simulation to detect which employees are vulnerable to ransomware and educate your team about how easy it is to fall victim to social engineering attacks.

Ransomware Protection Methods

If you have never faced a ransomware attack, it’s essential to adhere to any safe protection method. The cost of paying a ransom to regain your attacked files is higher. Therefore, here are a few methods to stay protected against any likely ransomware attack.

Endpoint protection

Antivirus is the natural first line of defense against ransomware, but outdated antivirus systems can only defend against a subset of ransomware variants. Modern endpoint security platforms offer next-generation antivirus, which defends against hidden or obfuscated ransomware, non-file-based attacks such as WannaCry, plus zero-day malware whose pattern has not yet been discovered in malware registries. 

In addition, they include Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and device firewalls capabilities, which enable security teams to identify and stop endpoint attacks in real-time.

Massive Data Backup

The purpose of a ransomware attack is to make the victim pay a ransom in exchange for access to their encrypted information. Nevertheless, this is only successful if the target loses control of their data in the first place. A reliable and secure data backup solution is an excellent strategy to mitigate the effects of a ransomware attack. If systems are frequently backed up, the amount of data lost due to a ransomware attack ought to be limited or non-existent.

It is, however, critical to guarantee that the data backup option cannot be encrypted. To prevent ransomware from spreading to devices containing recovery data, data should be kept in a read-only format.

Email Security

Employees should be trained to spot social engineering mails, and exercises should be conducted to see if they can detect and avoid phishing. Use spam and endpoint protection software to effectively detect and block suspicious emails and harmful links if the user clicks on them.

Updated Patches 

Install security fixes and keep the device’s OS and installed applications updated. In addition, run a vulnerability scan to find known vulnerabilities and swiftly fix them.

Eight Steps to respond when facing a ransomware attack

It’s critical to respond fast if you feel you’ve been the victim of a ransomware attack. Fortunately, you can do a few things to increase your chances of reducing damage and rapidly getting back to business as usual.

  • Separate the affected device
  • Stop the spread
  • Examine the damage on the device
  • Locate patient zero
  • Identify the ransomware
  • Report the incident
  • Evaluate your backup
  • Move on

Ransomware example

You’re probably aware that there are numerous versions of ransomware available. With names like Chimera and Troldesh, these strains seem like something out of a hacker movie. While newcomers may seek a piece of the pie, a small number of groups have established dominance. Some of these ransomware examples are the Kronos ransomware attack, Conti ransomware, and Darkside ransomware. 

Conti ransomware

Conti ransomware became well-known due to its attacks on healthcare facilities. Its conventional techniques rely on phishing attacks to get remote access to a system and expand throughout the network. 

Furthermore, it also steals passwords and collects unencrypted data. One famous attack of the Conti ransomware is the attack on Ireland’s Health Service Executive on the 14th of May, 2021. The attackers requested $20 million in exchange for not releasing any exfiltrated data.

Darkside ransomware

DarkSide is a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group that works as a ransomware program. DarkSide, like other similar attacks used in targeted cyberattacks, began hitting companies globally in August 2020. It not only encrypts the victim’s data but also removes the data from the compromised servers.

It’s an excellent illustration of ransomware that employs double extortion because hackers usually demand a ransom to release the stolen data, putting more pressure on the victim to pay.


In this write-up, we’ve looked at the ransomware definition and how it works. The ransomware threat is not new, as we’ve seen several attacks, including the famous Kaseya ransomware attack. Nevertheless, organizations must protect their data against such attacks.

A ransomware simulation remains the most effective way to raise ransomware awareness. It can also help determine which employees are the most vulnerable to ransomware assaults. Besides this, incorporating cybersecurity programs into your workplace is very important.

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