Ransomware attacks are easily some of the most dangerous malware attacks of all. They have become some of the most common types of cyber-attack out there, and this is because they (unfortunately) have a high rate of success. Most people and organizations are not prepared for this kind of thing, and that is why all too many of them fall prey to such tactics. If you want to be one of the exceptions, it pays to know what happens during a ransomware attack. The more you know about how it works, the more likely it will be that you can prevent such an attack before it happens.
Phase 1: Infiltration
During this initial step, a ransomware hacker will focus on getting a foothold inside your network or system. There are numerous ways in which this can be done. However, most of the methods involve tricking legitimate users into running the ransomware code. At the outset, they will not have any real access to your systems, so most of their options will revolve around digital trickery. Here is a quick list of some common methods:
- Social engineering: Also called “phishing”, this method involves the use of fake web pages and messages that contain links to those fake websites. The basic idea is simple: They trick you into clicking the link and then entering your login credentials on a fake page that they control.
- Software Vulnerabilities: All software is made up of code, and code will often have vulnerabilities that someone can exploit. This provides a more direct method of attack, and this is also the reason why software manufacturers frequently issue security patches.
- Direct Download: This is a little bit like phishing, but it doesn’t generally use targeted messages. Instead, the hacker creates a webpage that offers a download. The download will probably be made to look like something innocent and common like Adobe reader or a popular browser. Unfortunately, not all downloads are what they seem. This is why you need to make sure you only download software from official sources.
- Exploiting weaknesses in RDP connections: This is another direct method of attack which works by hijacking internet ports and using them to compromise the rest of the system.
Once the ransomware is installed, it doesn’t need to be activated right away. If they want to, the hacker can wait a while before triggering the program to do its thing. However, they will need to set up a line of communication with the targeted machine. This can possibly be used to carry out secondary attacks and compromise other systems. The ransomware code will create this communication line, and the attacker might wait a while to gain greater access before initiating the main attack.
Once the malware has been initiated, it will begin encrypting your data in place. This means that it will be totally inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t have a matching password. Of course, only the attacker will have that password, and this is what allows them to hold your data for ransom. Encryption is a technique that is normally used to protect data, but hackers have learned how to weaponize it for the opposite purpose.
At a fundamental level, all digital data consists of binary code, which is a big bunch of ones and zeroes. A computer can read this code and translate it into languages and formats that a person can understand. Encryption works by scrambling all these digits, effectively randomizing the data. It’s like a crossword puzzle with no clues and no discernible pattern. That is why encryption has proven to be very effective. Unfortunately, it is also very effective when used as an offensive weapon.
The Ransom Demand
If the encryption succeeds, the next thing a hacker will do is issue a set of demands. This will usually take the form of a ransom message that is displayed when you try to access that network or device. In some cases, they will try to create sympathy by claiming that they come from a very poor country or by claiming to represent some kind of cause. The first thing to understand about these notes is that you cannot trust anything that they say.
Trusting thieves and criminals is not a good policy, and that’s why many organizations have paid the ransom without getting their data returned. They know that most companies just want to keep this kind of thing quiet in order to protect their reputations. As such, they know they have you in a very bad position. No matter what happens, you should never pay these people.
Recovery And Cleanup
Once the ransom demand is issued, you have two choices: Pay the hackers and hope for the best or delete everything and restore the system from your most recent backup. Needless to say, option number two is the one to choose. As long as you have a relatively recent backup, the damage will be minimal. However, you will still have to basically rebuild your whole IT structure from the ground up, even if the backups make it easier to do so. This should also be the part where you do an investigation and try to determine how the attack happened. Thus, even if the damage is significant, you can hopefully learn valuable lessons for the future. If things are really hairy, then you might consider employing a ransomware recovery service.
After reading this article, you should now understand the basic process by which a ransomware attack works. By understanding all of that, you can ensure that you are as prepared as possible for a ransomware attack. As a final note, we should tell you that regular and complete data backup is generally considered to be the best protection against ransomware. If you are in need of ransomware data recovery services or just some good managed IT support in general, you can call PCH Technologies at (856) 754-7500.
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