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The 5 Most Common Ransomware Attacks and How to Stop Them in Their Tracks

The Rising Risks of Ransomware Attacks

Every time we log on to the internet, we face several threats to our computers, data, or privacy. Another major threat that businesses and individuals should be aware of is ransomware, a type of cyber attack that targets the victims financially. 

Typically, ransomware attacks focus on businesses, as the attackers stand to gain a more significant financial reward from targeting corporations. 

Nevertheless, people can also be a target of these types of attacks, especially as the number of people working from home has increased; ransomware attackers will target these workers in the hope of extorting them with threats of financial or data loss. 

Over the past few years, ransomware attacks have increased and become popular with cybercriminals because of the relatively technical effort it takes for such sizeable financial gain. 

With this in mind, let’s look at what exactly ransomware is, the most popular forms, and how you can keep yourself or your business safe. 

What is Ransomware?

A ransomware attack occurs when hackers gain unauthorized access to their victim’s computer or network via email, download, or malicious websites. 

Once the victim clicks on the malicious file, the malware contacts the attacker’s server, downloads a public key to the victim’s computer, encrypts all of their data and files and renders their device unusable. 

Once the data and files are encrypted, a ransom note will appear on the victim’s screen demanding a ransom payment, usually in cryptocurrency. This note usually comes with a countdown and threat to release or delete the data on the computer. 

Once the payment is received, the attacker will send the key to decrypt their files and give the victim back access to their files and date. Of course, the former situation relies on the cybercriminal keeping their word; they may keep the key that decrypts the files, take the money, and run.

What Are The Different Types of Ransomware Attacks? 

One of the most well-known attacks that increased ransomware attacks was the 2016 WannaCry attack. This attack targeted a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows systems so that the malware could infect and encrypt files on the compromised computers. The attackers demanded payment in Bitcoin in exchange for decrypting the files.

The attack gained significant traction in the media due to the disruption caused to various industries, such as healthcare and government. Since then, ransomware attacks generally follow the same criteria when they choose their target, which are: 

  • Financially motivation
  • Uses extortion and threats to the victim’s IT system
  • Demand for payment via a ransom note demanding immediate action

Although the motivations of a ransomware attack are the same, each attack will use different techniques to achieve an end goal of significant profit for the cybercriminal. With this in mind, let’s look at five of the most common ransomware attacks.

1. Cryptoware

Cryptoware, or crypto-ransomware, encrypts the files or system of the victim. This attack uses powerful encryption methods to encrypt files, making the victim’s documents, videos, or photos appear as random letters and numbers.

Once cryptoware has successfully infected the system,  a ransom note will appear explaining that the hacker will decrypt the files back to their original form once the victim pays the ransom with cryptocurrency. The ransom note typically comes with threats of data loss or selling the data on the dark web unless the attacker receives payment within a particular time frame. 

Cryptoware spreads via phishing emails, spoof websites, or even pre-packed toolkits that scan and exploit a systems security weaknesses. For this reason, cryptoware is one of the most common and dangerous forms of ransomware attacks. 

2. Locker Ransomware

Locker ransomware will scan the victim’s computer for vulnerabilities to lock them out of the system. Locker ransomware will display a lock screen containing a ransom demand for payment. This attack restricts access to the device but still allows restricted access with the lock screen itself with a mouse and keyboard to make the payment to unlock the device.  

However, unlike other ransomware attacks, lockerware does not usually target or encrypt your files. Therefore, if you are a target of this ransomware, your files are less likely to be corrupted or lost, and your device may be accessible with safe mode, anti-virus, or the help of professionals.

 3. Scareware

As the name suggests, scareware tries to instill fear in the victim into visiting a spoofed or infected website, which will then download malware onto their device. Scareware usually comes in the form of pop-ups and uses urgent language to get the user to take action against the “problem.” 

Typical examples of this are: 

“Your PC is infected. Protect it now.”

“Data leak warning. Act now!”

Suppose a scareware attack successfully gets the user to click on the popup download. In that case, the effects can be catastrophic, as it can cause identity theft, or encryption of your important files or data.

4. Doxware

Doxware comes from the term doxing and is a type of ransomware that threatens to release personal data on the internet or sell it on the dark web unless the victim or company pays a ransom. 

Doxware is usually installed on a computer via phishing emails. The software will then scan the device’s files for keywords that indicate confidentiality or privacy, which the victim would not want the public to see. 

Once the attacker has these sensitive files, they state that they will send the files out for the public to see unless the victim pays the ransom. Doxware relies on the victim’s fear of losing their reputation or embarrassment if the sensitive files are released rather than locking the sensitive data.  

5. Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)

Suppose someone does not have the technical knowledge to implement ransomware attacks independently. In that case, they can be a cybercriminal or group to distribute ransomware for them in return for payment and a share in the profits from the ransom payment. 

Ransomware as a service allows for a greater distribution of ransomware attacks. Anyone willing to pay for the software from cybercriminal groups can distribute and increase the scale and risk of these attacks. 

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks

The effects of ransomware attacks can be devastating for a business or individual. However, the correct security measures significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these attacks. 

The following measures will help reduce the risk of ransomware attacks: 

  1. Regularly update software to address vulnerabilities ransomware attacks target
  2. Implement robust security measures such as encrypted emails, anti-virus, and strong passwords
  3. Back up your files regularly so as not to lose recent and sensitive data if a ransomware attack targets you

It is also essential to stay current on recent cyberattack events, as the world of cybercrime constantly evolves as technology advances. 

Safeguarding Against Ransomware Attacks for the Future

Due to the popularity of ransomware attacks as a form of cybercrime, the battle against these cyber criminals is likely to continue as their methods evolve. Nevertheless, adopting the right mindset toward cybersecurity makes it possible to preserve sensitive information files or devices from ransomware attacks.