Ransomware – Easy Money! – Dr John McCarthy
14 September 2016 • Author(s): Dr John McCarthy
More money will be paid out this year on ransomware demands than ever before. Some reports say it could reach $1 billion. This is a huge rise of the $24 million reportedly paid out in 2015. Nobody it seems is safe. Attacks have been reported at police departments, government offices as well as numerous small businesses.
Ransomware is powerful as it leaves victims with the feeling that they have no choice but to pay up.
Ransomware now comes in many flavours, some of which are getting pretty sophisticated. Criminals only need to make small changes in the ransomware code to avoid signature recognition from security vendors. Additionally, they now use multiple methods of deployment which again makes protecting systems more challenging. The most disturbing new development is the use of network communications. In this way ransomware can be brought into systems by unmanaged devices and through third parties.
Ransomware is big business that has grown into a serious problem, affecting millions of users and netting millions of dollars in profit. With such huge profits to be made, the market is only going to grow and the problem will worsen accordingly.
So what can we do to protect ourselves?
Well the golden rule of course is to back up your data, disable macros where possible and make sure your systems are up to date etc. If you are infected, you may be able to reset your BIOS clock to give you some breathing space until you find a solution or a data backup.
One very common way of finding yourself infected is via phishing emails. In fact, this is a very common way of infecting systems full stop. These emails can be sent to any user in your organisation and now can spread across your network very quickly. As I mentioned earlier ransomware has a physiological hold over those it infects.
Using technical jargon and complex encryption it fools users into thinking they have no hope.
What I am saying here is that in 2016 we have a $1 billion statement that suggests that many of us are easy targets. It’s true that initially ransomware gained most of its success by targeting small firms who refused to backup their data and were only too willing to pay to move on. But with such high sums to be earned it is only a matter of time before more IT-savvy companies are held to ransom.
Yet the protection methods remain the same: good network management and the employment of users who are educated in potential threats they may come across. Simply training for users on how to detect and deal with phishing emails would be a huge step forward. Couple this with an understanding of what ransomware is and how it operates would demystify the problem.
For me it comes back to having good cyber hygiene and a healthy cyber security culture within your organisation. This is not difficult to achieve and is cost effective compared to the $1 billion we are set to give away this year.
About Dr John McCarthy
Dr John McCarthy PhD BSc (Hons) MBCS is a renowned authority on cyber security strategy, development and implementation and is an Airport Cyber Security Fellow for ServiceTec Global Services.
Dr McCarthy is frequently invited to sit on expert panels and appear as a speaker at well-known security events including International Airport Review’s own Airport Security and Airport IT events. Past appearances have included talks on ICT Security in the Modern Airport, Security in the Digital Age and SCADA threats in the modern airport.