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Exploring the Types of Ransomware Attacks and Their Devastating Effects

Updated: Dec 26, 2023




The 21st century has witnessed a tremendous surge in technology, increasing cyber-attacks. According to the 2022 DBIR, ransomware was detected in approximately 13% of security incidents and 25% of data breaches. Shockingly, 85% of organizations have been targeted in the last 12 months, a significant rise from 9% in 2023. Ransomware attacks, such as WannaCry, have profoundly impacted businesses and companies, causing extensive damage. 


Ransomware attacks involve encrypting files and/or blocking access to applications or files until a specific amount of money is paid. There are three primary forms of ransomware: locker, crypto, and scareware. Locker ransomware restricts user access and locks files, while scareware uses manipulation tactics to block essential computer functions. Crypto-ransomware encrypts crucial data and can be irreversible. In this post, we will discuss the three main forms of ransomware attacks and other ransomware categories.


As the use of the Internet and cloud-based software continues to grow, the risk of ransomware infiltrating and compromising sensitive data and critical assets also increases. To defend against these attacks, businesses must implement robust security measures and remain vigilant for potential threats. Companies can enhance the security of their infrastructure and reduce potential risks by studying incidents like the Colonial Pipeline and WannaCry. Implementing appropriate prevention measures and protocols can help mitigate these threats.


A Comprehensive Look at Different Ransomware Types, High-Profile Victims, and Their Consequences


Understanding the diverse types of ransomware is crucial in comprehending the dynamic landscape of cyber threats and the importance of robust security measures. We can gain valuable insights into this evolving menace by examining each variation's unique characteristics and capabilities. Additionally, we will delve into the notable individuals and organizations who have fallen victim to these malicious attacks, highlighting the devastating consequences they have faced.


Crypto Ransomware

Crypto ransomware is a malicious technique that encrypts a victim's data and demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. This type of ransomware poses a significant threat to both individuals and organizations.


One of the most infamous examples of this type of ransomware is CryptoLocker, initially launched in September 2013 and designed to encrypt files on Windows computers and extort a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. It propagated through the Gameover ZeuS botnet, a network of compromised computers that were remotely controlled.


The global impact of CryptoLocker was immense, as it managed to infect many computers, focusing on Windows systems. The consequences were severe, with victims suffering significant financial losses due to ransom payments, individuals and organizations experiencing data loss, and businesses facing operational disruptions.


This attack served as a wake-up call for the public, highlighting the risks of ransomware and emphasizing the need for robust cybersecurity measures and data backups. As a result, the response to CryptoLocker brought about a shift in cybersecurity strategies, such as educating employees about phishing and investing in backup solutions. Law enforcement and the cybersecurity industry also responded strongly to this attack, culminating in Operation Tovar in 2014. Ultimately, CryptoLocker played a pivotal role in shaping the current ransomware landscape, establishing a precedent for future attacks.


Locker Ransomware

Locker Ransomware operates differently from other types of malware as it doesn't encrypt individual files but locks users out of their entire devices. This ransomware essentially denies access to the device's operating system, rendering the computer or device unusable until a ransom is paid to unlock it. So, unlike crypto-ransomware, which encrypts data, locker ransomware restricts access to the system or device without encrypting files.


Petya ransomware, an example of locker ransomware discovered in 2016, targeted Microsoft Windows systems, overwriting the master boot record, making hard drives inaccessible, and demanding payment for functionality restoration. It caused widespread blackouts in Ukraine, global disruptions at Chernobyl and Saint Gobain, and damages of $384 million, causing significant harm to organizations and individuals.


Scareware

Fear is incredibly potent and can drive individuals to make unfortunate choices. In cybersecurity, malicious actors leverage this fear to steal personal information, frequently employing scareware as a means to an end. Scareware capitalizes on fear to persuade users into acquiring or purchasing a supposed solution, which often proves worthless or bothersome software. This deceptive tactic frequently relies on false information, such as fraudulent emails asserting access to sensitive data or demanding ransoms. Users must exercise caution when confronted with these scams, as they have the potential to introduce viruses onto their devices.


Scareware has been around since 1990, when the first known record of it appeared with a program called NightMare that targeted Amiga computers. In 2010, visitors to Star Tribune were hit with fake ads for BestWestern Hotels, which led to malware and malware-laden websites. The author of the scam made up to $250,000 and was subsequently arrested. One of the most well-known scareware schemes occurred in 2019 when Office Depot and Support.com agreed to pay $35 million to the FTC for offering fake antivirus programs and selling valuable information to other companies.


Doxware (or Leakware)

Doxware employs encryption to lock victims' data and demands a ransom, typically in Bitcoins, in exchange for its release. Additionally, it threatens to expose sensitive information, including emails, conversations, photos, and social security numbers. The term "Doxware" is derived from the combination of "dox" and "ransomware," which signifies the method used in this cyber attack. Unlike traditional ransomware, Doxware enables hackers to seize information from a user's computer and retain it, utilizing the disclosure of this data as leverage to compel the user to pay the ransom.


In August 2020, the DarkSide Ransomware Group emerged as a prime example of this situation, initiating a worldwide ransomware campaign in over 15 countries. Their targets included various industry sectors, such as financial services, legal services, manufacturing, professional services, retail, and technology. They gained notoriety for involvement in the Colonial Pipeline Company ransomware incident in May 2021. This incident compelled the company to proactively and temporarily halt the operation of their 5,500-mile pipeline, which supplies 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast of the United States.


RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service)

Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is a unique business model in which affiliates pay for the privilege of launching ransomware attacks created by operators. These RaaS kits can be found on the dark web, providing round-the-clock support, attractive bundled offers, and functionalities that closely resemble those of legitimate SaaS providers. With costs ranging from $40 per month to several thousand dollars, this option has become increasingly popular among threat actors.


Sodinokibi ransomware, also known as Sodin, was first detected in April 2019. It encrypts files and demands a Bitcoin ransom to regain access. The same group behind REvil/Sodinokibi is responsible for nearly 40% of all ransomware infections worldwide. The ransomware has caused significant damage to global organizations like JBS FoodsTravelex, and Acer, leading to countermeasures by countries, law enforcement, and IT security organizations.


Double Extortion Ransomware

Double Extortion Ransomware is a highly malicious cyberattack that encrypts the victim's data and threatens to leak or sell it unless the ransom is paid. In a more sinister twist, the attackers warn that they will publish sensitive information on the dark web, auction it off to the highest bidder, or even destroy it if the ransom is not paid within the specified timeframe. This method intensifies the pressure on the victims, as they risk losing access to their data and the potential consequences of their private information being exposed or misused in the public domain.


In 2019, the Maze ransomware launched a double extortion attack that deviated from the norm by encrypting files and stealing sensitive data. The group infiltrated an organization's network, exfiltrated confidential information, and demanded payment for not exposing or selling the stolen data. Cognizant was one of the victims of this attack, which resulted in service disruptions for some of their clients. 


Mobile Ransomware

Mobile Ransomware is a specialized malware targeting mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Its operation closely resembles that of traditional ransomware, as it either encrypts files on the device or locks the device itself. Subsequently, it demands a ransom for restoring functionality or granting access to data. Cybercriminals find them highly profitable targets due to the widespread use of mobile devices and the valuable information they store.


Fusob, a type of mobile ransomware, has been identified as one of the most widespread forms of this malicious software. According to Kaspersky, Fusob accounted for more than 56 percent of all mobile ransomware incidents between 2015 and 2016. Interestingly, around 11.4 percent of Fusob victims were from the United States. For these victims, the ransomware presents a screen displaying a message supposedly from the NSA, demanding a ransom for alleged illegal activities. Failure to pay the fine may result in opening a criminal case. Fusob typically requires a payment ranging from $100 to $200, and it even accepts iTunes gift cards as a form of payment. It is worth noting that Fusob will not activate if the user's language is detected as one of the post-Soviet republic languages.


IoT Ransomware

IoT ransomware attacks are designed to target IoT devices, gain control, or lock them down to demand payment. One notable example is FLocker, a type of Android lock-screen ransomware that has expanded its reach to include smart TVs. While these attacks primarily impact NAS devices and routers, they generally pose more of a concern for individual consumers than a significant threat to organizations.


Combating Ransomware: Prevention and Response

Companies must take proactive steps to safeguard their valuable data from ransomware attacks, as the consequences of losing such data can be irreversible and disrupt operations.


1. Backup Your Data.

Regularly back up data to external storage or cloud servers, following the 3-2-1 rule, with one offline and an extra on an immutable cloud storage server.


2. Ensure that all systems and software are regularly updated.

Updating software, operating systems, and antivirus software is crucial for protecting against malware, viruses, and ransomware. Companies vulnerable to cyber-attacks, like WannaCry, should update their systems promptly.


3. Protect your computer by installing antivirus software and firewalls.

Install antivirus and anti-malware software to protect against ransomware and cyber threats. Configure firewalls to filter out suspicious data, guard against software and hardware attacks, and be cautious of fake alerts.


4. Segmentation of Networks.

Network segmentation can limit ransomware spread in a network. It divides the network into smaller networks, each with unique access and security controls. This allows the security team more time to identify, isolate, and remove threats.


5. Email Protection

To protect against email phishing, use antivirus software, avoid unfamiliar senders, update email applications regularly, and use email authentication methods like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.


6. Application Whitelisting

Whitelisting is essential for limiting or obstructing contaminated programs or websites on networks. Software like Windows AppLocker can be used to blacklist or prohibit specific programs or websites.


7. Endpoint Security

Businesses should prioritize endpoint security to protect against risks. Advanced technologies like EPP and EDR help system administrators manage remote device security, including antivirus, anti-malware, data encryption, intrusion detection, and real-time alerts.


8. Limit User Access Privileges

The "least privilege" principle, a zero-trust model, helps organizations protect networks and systems from ransomware attacks by restricting user access to only necessary data and resources.


9. Run Regular Security Testing

Companies must regularly improve security measures, reassess user privileges, identify system vulnerabilities, and establish new protocols through sandbox testing to combat ransomware tactics.


10. Security Awareness Training

Companies should offer comprehensive security awareness training to employees, covering essential practices like safe web browsing, strong passwords, VPN use, email identification, system updates, confidentiality, and emergency reporting.


Conclusion


Recap of Key Points:

  • We've delved into the multifaceted world of ransomware, exploring its various types like Crypto, Locker, Scareware, Doxware, RaaS, Double Extortion, and Mobile Ransomware.

  • High-profile cases like CryptoLocker, Petya, and DarkSide Ransomware illustrate the devastating effects of these attacks.

  • Strategies for prevention and response, including data backups, network segmentation, regular security testing, and security awareness training, are crucial in safeguarding against these threats.

Final Thoughts on Addressing the Ransomware Threat

The ransomware threat is pervasive and poses a significant risk to businesses, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises. Both companies and individuals must remain updated on the most recent cybersecurity trends and threats. The risk of ransomware attacks can be significantly reduced by implementing strong security measures, staying alert, and promoting a culture of cybersecurity awareness. Always remember that being prepared is essential, and by taking proactive steps today, you can protect your digital assets for the future.


Collaborating with a seasoned expert like Everleap can help bring knowledge and expertise in safeguarding infrastructure against data loss and cyber threats. Everleap assists businesses with IT operations, Cybersecurity, and complex IT projects. Our goal is to help fortify your business against these digital threats. To kickstart this process, we are offering a Free Infrastructure Assessment. This assessment is tailored for an initial review of your network and to identify any security gaps. Take advantage of this opportunity to protect your business and ensure its resilience. Contact Everleap today.


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