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Famed Hacker Kevin Mitnick Shows You How to become Invisible Online

If you’re like me, one of the first things you do in the morning is check your email. And, if you’re like me, you also wonder who else has read your email. That’s not a paranoid concern. If you use a web-based email service such as Gmail or Outlook 365, the answer is kind of obvious and frightening.

About the author

Kevin Mitnick (@kevinmitnick) is a security consultant, public speaker, and former hacker. The company he founded, Mitnick Security Consulting LLC, has clients that include dozens of the Fortune 500 and world governments. He is the author of Ghost in the Wires, The Art of Intrusion, and The Art of Deception.

Even if you delete an email the moment you read it on your computer or mobile phone, that doesn’t necessarily erase the content. There’s still a copy of it somewhere. Web mail is cloud-based, so in order to be able to access it from any device anywhere, at any time, there have to be redundant copies. If you use Gmail, for example, a copy of every email sent and received through your Gmail account is retained on various servers worldwide at Google. This is also true if you use email systems provided by Yahoo, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft, or even your workplace. Any emails you send can also be inspected, at any time, by the hosting company. Allegedly this is to filter out malware, but the reality is that third parties can and do access our emails for other, more sinister and self-serving, reasons.

While most of us may tolerate having our emails scanned for malware, and perhaps some of us tolerate scanning for advertising purposes, the idea of third parties reading our correspondence and acting on specific contents found within specific emails is downright disturbing.

The least you can do is make it much harder for them to do so.

Start With Encryption

Most web-based email services use encryption when the email is in transit. However, when some services transmit mail between Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs), they may not be using encryption, thus your message is in the open. To become invisible you will need to encrypt your messages.

Most email encryption uses what’s called asymmetrical encryption. That means I generate two keys: a private key that stays on my device, which I never share, and a public key that I post freely on the internet. The two keys are different yet mathematically related.

For example: Bob wants to send Alice a secure email. He finds Alice’s public key on the internet or obtains it directly from Alice, and when sending a message to her encrypts the message with her key. This message will stay encrypted until Alice—and only Alice—uses a passphrase to unlock her private key and unlock the encrypted message.

So how would encrypting the contents of your email work?

The most popular method of email encryption is PGP, which stands for “Pretty Good Privacy.” It is not free. It is a product of the Symantec Corporation. But its creator, Phil Zimmermann, also authored an open-source version, OpenPGP, which is free. And a third option, GPG (GNU Privacy Guard), created by Werner Koch, is also free. The good news is that all three are interoperational. That means that no matter which version of PGP you use, the basic functions are the same.

When Edward Snowden first decided to disclose the sensitive data he’d copied from the NSA, he needed the assistance of like-minded people scattered around the world. Privacy advocate and filmmaker Laura Poitras had recently finished a documentary about the lives of whistle-blowers. Snowden wanted to establish an encrypted exchange with Poitras, except only a few people knew her public key.

Snowden reached out to Micah Lee of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lee’s public key was available online and, according to the account published on the Intercept, he had Poitras’s public key. Lee checked to see if Poitras would permit him to share it. She would.

Given the importance of the secrets they were about to share, Snowden and Poitras could not use their regular e‑mail addresses. Why not? Their personal email accounts contained unique associations—such as specific interests, lists of contacts—that could identify each of them. Instead Snowden and Poitras decided to create new email addresses.

How would they know each other’s new email addresses? In other words, if both parties were totally anonymous, how would they know who was who and whom they could trust? How could Snowden, for example, rule out the possibility that the NSA or someone else wasn’t posing as Poitras’s new email account? Public keys are long, so you can’t just pick up a secure phone and read out the characters to the other person. You need a secure email exchange.

By enlisting Lee once again, both Snowden and Poitras could anchor their trust in someone when setting up their new and anonymous email accounts. Poitras first shared her new public key with Lee. Lee did not use the actual key but instead a 40-character abbreviation (or a fingerprint) of Poitras’s public key. This he posted to a public site—Twitter.

Sometimes in order to become invisible you have to use the visible.

Now Snowden could anonymously view Lee’s tweet and compare the shortened key to the message he received. If the two didn’t match, Snowden would know not to trust the email. The message might have been compromised. Or he might be talking instead to the NSA. In this case, the two matched.

Snowden finally sent Poitras an encrypted e‑mail identifying himself only as “Citizenfour.” This signature became the title of her Academy Award–winning documentary about his privacy rights campaign.

That might seem like the end—now they could communicate securely via encrypted e‑mail—but it wasn’t. It was just the beginning.

Picking an Encryption Service

Both the strength of the mathematical operation and the length of the encryption key determine how easy it is for someone without a key to crack your code.

Encryption algorithms in use today are public. You want that. Public algorithms have been vetted for weakness—meaning people have been purposely trying to break them. Whenever one of the public algorithms becomes weak or is cracked, it is retired, and newer, stronger algorithms are used instead.

The keys are (more or less) under your control, and so, as you might guess, their management is very important. If you generate an encryption key, you—and no one else—will have the key stored on your device. If you let a company perform the encryption, say, in the cloud, then that company might also keep the key after he or she shares it with you and may also be compelled by court order to share the key with law enforcement or a government agency, with or without a warrant.

When you encrypt a message—an e‑mail, text, or phone call—use end‑to‑end encryption. That means your message stays unreadable until it reaches its intended recipient. With end‑to‑end encryption, only you and your recipient have the keys to decode the message. Not the telecommunications carrier, website owner, or app developer—the parties that law enforcement or government will ask to turn over information about you. Do a Google search for “end‑to‑end encryption voice call.” If the app or service doesn’t use end-to-end encryption, then choose another.

If all this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. But there are PGP plug-ins for the Chrome and Firefox Internet browsers that make encryption easier. One is Mailvelope, which neatly handles the public and private encryption keys of PGP. Simply type in a passphrase, which will be used to generate the public and private keys. Then whenever you write a web-based email, select a recipient, and if the recipient has a public key available, you will then have the option to send that person an encrypted message.

Beyond Encryption: Metadata

Even if you encrypt your e‑mail messages with PGP, a small but information-rich part of your message is still readable by just about anyone. In defending itself from the Snowden revelations, the US government stated repeatedly that it doesn’t capture the actual contents of our emails, which in this case would be unreadable with PGP encryption. Instead, the government said it collects only the email’s metadata.

What is email metadata? It is the information in the To and From fields as well as the IP addresses of the various servers that handle the email from origin to recipient. It also includes the subject line, which can sometimes be very revealing as to the encrypted contents of the message. Metadata, a legacy from the early days of the internet, is still included on every email sent and received, but modern email readers hide this information from display.

That might sound okay, since the third parties are not actually reading the content, and you probably don’t care about the mechanics of how those emails traveled—the various server addresses and the time stamps—but you’d be surprised by how much can be learned from the email path and the frequency of emails alone.

According to Snowden, our email, text, and phone metadata is being collected by the NSA and other agencies. But the government can’t collect metadata from everyone—or can it? Technically, no. However, there’s been a sharp rise in “legal” collection since 2001.

You’d be surprised by how much can be learned from the email path and the frequency of emails alone.

To become truly invisible in the digital world you will need to do more than encrypt your messages. You will need to:

Remove your true IP address: This is your point of connection to the Internet, your fingerprint. It can show where you are (down to your physical address) and what provider you use.
Obscure your hardware and software: When you connect to a website online, a snapshot of the hardware and software you’re using may be collected by the site.
Defend your anonymity: Attribution online is hard. Proving that you were at the keyboard when an event occurred is difficult. However, if you walk in front of a camera before going online at Starbucks, or if you just bought a latte at Starbucks with your credit card, these actions can be linked to your online presence a few moments later.

To start, your IP address reveals where you are in the world, what provider you use, and the identity of the person paying for the internet service (which may or may not be you). All these pieces of information are included within the email metadata and can later be used to identify you uniquely. Any communication, whether it’s email or not, can be used to identify you based on the Internal Protocol (IP) address that’s assigned to the router you are using while you are at home, work, or a friend’s place.

IP addresses in emails can of course be forged. Someone might use a proxy address—not his or her real IP address but someone else’s—that an email appears to originate from another location. A proxy is like a foreign-language translator—you speak to the translator, and the translator speaks to the foreign-language speaker—only the message remains exactly the same. The point here is that someone might use a proxy from China or even Germany to evade detection on an email that really comes from North Korea.

Instead of hosting your own proxy, you can use a service known as an anonymous remailer, which will mask your email’s IP address for you. An anonymous remailer simply changes the email address of the sender before sending the message to its intended recipient. The recipient can respond via the remailer. That’s the simplest version.

One way to mask your IP address is to use the onion router (Tor), which is what Snowden and Poitras did. Tor is designed to be used by people living in harsh regimes as a way to avoid censorship of popular media and services and to prevent anyone from tracking what search terms they use. Tor remains free and can be used by anyone, anywhere—even you.

How does Tor work? It upends the usual model for accessing a website. When you use Tor, the direct line between you and your target website is obscured by additional nodes, and every ten seconds the chain of nodes connecting you to whatever site you are looking at changes without disruption to you. The various nodes that connect you to a site are like layers within an onion. In other words, if someone were to backtrack from the destination website and try to find you, they’d be unable to because the path would be constantly changing. Unless your entry point and your exit point become associated somehow, your connection is considered anonymous.

To use Tor you will need the modified Firefox browser from the Tor site (torproject.org). Always look for legitimate Tor browsers for your operating system from the Tor project website. Do not use a third-party site. For Android operating systems, Orbot is a legitimate free Tor app from Google Play that both encrypts your traffic and obscures your IP address. On iOS devices (iPad, iPhone), install the Onion Browser, a legitimate app from the iTunes app store.

In addition to allowing you to surf the searchable Internet, Tor gives you access to a world of sites that are not ordinarily searchable—what’s called the Dark Web. These are sites that don’t resolve to common names such as Google.com and instead end with the .onion extension. Some of these hidden sites offer, sell, or provide items and services that may be illegal. Some of them are legitimate sites maintained by people in oppressed parts of the world.

It should be noted, however, that there are several weaknesses with Tor: You have no control over the exit nodes, which may be under the control of government or law enforcement; you can still be profiled and possibly identified; and Tor is very slow.

That being said, if you still decide to use Tor you should not run it in the same physical device that you use for browsing. In other words, have a laptop for browsing the web and a separate device for Tor (for instance, a Raspberry Pi minicomputer running Tor software). The idea here is that if somebody is able to compromise your laptop they still won’t be able to peel off your Tor transport layer as it is running on a separate physical box.

Create a new (invisible) account

Legacy email accounts might be connected in various ways to other parts of your life—friends, hobbies, work. To communicate in secrecy, you will need to create new email accounts using Tor so that the IP address setting up the account is not associated with your real identity in any way.

Creating anonymous email addresses is challenging but possible.

Since you will leave a trail if you pay for private email services, you’re actually better off using a free web service. A minor hassle: Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others require you to supply a phone number to verify your identify. Obviously you can’t use your real cellphone number, since it may be connected to your real name and real address. You might be able to set up a Skype phone number if it supports voice authentication instead of SMS authentication; however, you will still need an existing email account and a prepaid gift card to set it up.

Some people think of burner phones as devices used only by terrorists, pimps, and drug dealers, but there are plenty of perfectly legitimate uses for them. Burner phones mostly provide voice, text, and e‑mail service, and that’s about all some people need.

However, purchasing a burner phone anonymously will be tricky. Sure, I could walk into Walmart and pay cash for a burner phone and one hundred minutes of airtime. Who would know? Well, lots of people would.

First, how did I get to Walmart? Did I take an Uber car? Did I take a taxi? These records can all be subpoenaed. I could drive my own car, but law enforcement uses automatic license plate recognition technology (ALPR) in large public parking lots to look for missing and stolen vehicles as well as people on whom there are outstanding warrants. The ALPR records can be subpoenaed.

Even if I walked to Walmart, once I entered the store my face would be visible on several security cameras within the store itself, and that video can be subpoenaed.

Creating anonymous email addresses is challenging but possible.

Okay, so let’s say I send a stranger to the store—maybe a homeless person I hired on the spot. That person walks in and buys the phone and several data refill cards with cash. Maybe you arrange to meet this person later away from the store. This would help physically distance yourself from the actual transaction.

Activation of the prepaid phone requires either calling the mobile operator’s customer service department or activating it on the provider’s website. To avoid being recorded for “quality assurance,” it’s safer to activate over the web. Using Tor over an open wireless network after you’ve changed your MAC address should be the minimum safeguards. You should make up all the subscriber information you enter on the website. For your address, just Google the address of a major hotel and use that. Make up a birth date and PIN that you’ll remember in case you need to contact customer service in the future.

After using Tor to randomize your IP address, and after creating a Gmail account that has nothing to do with your real phone number, Google sends your phone a verification code or a voice call. Now you have a Gmail account that is virtually untraceable. We can produce reasonably secure emails whose IP address—thanks to Tor—is anonymous (although you don’t have control over the exit nodes) and whose contents, thanks to PGP, can’t be read except by the intended recipient.

To keep this account anonymous you can only access the account from within Tor so that your IP address will never be associated with it. Further, you should never perform any internet searches while logged into that anonymous Gmail account; you might inadvertently search for something that is related to your true identity. Even searching for weather information could reveal your location.

As you can see, becoming invisible and keeping yourself invisible require tremendous discipline and perpetual diligence. But it is worth it. The most important takeaways are: First, be aware of all the ways that someone can identify you even if you undertake some but not all of the precautions I’ve described. And if you do undertake all these precautions, know that you need to perform due diligence every time you use your anonymous accounts. No exceptions.

Excerpted from The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data, Copyright © 2017 by Kevin D. Mitnick with Robert Vamosi. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

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Ransomware: An executive expose to one of the biggest monster menaces on the web

Everything you need to know about ransomware: how it started, why it’s booming, how to protect against it, and what to do if your PC’s infected

The AIDS demand for payment – by post.

ll you need to know about ransomware in 60 seconds

What is a ransomware attack?

Ransomware is one of the biggest problems on the web right now. It’s a form of malware which encrypts documents on a PC or even across a network. Victims can often only regain access to their files and PCs by paying a ransom to the criminals behind it. A ransomware infection often starts with someone clicking on what looks like an innocent attachment, and it can be a headache for companies of all sizes.

Cybercriminals didn’t use to be so obvious. If hackers infiltrated your corporate network, they would do everything possible to avoid detection. It was in their best interests not to alert a victim that they’d fallen victim to cybercrime.

But now, if you are attacked with file-encrypting ransomware, criminals will brazenly announce they’re holding your corporate data hostage until you pay a ransom in order to get it back. It might sound too simple, but it’s working: cybercriminals pocketed over $1bn from ransomware attacks during 2016 alone.

What is the history of ransomware?

While ransomware exploded last year, increasing by an estimated 748 percent, it’s not a new phenomenon; the first instance of what we now know as ransomware appeared in 1989.

Known as AIDS or the PC Cyborg Trojan, the virus was sent to victims — mostly in the healthcare industry — on a floppy disc. The ransomware counted the number of times the PC was booted: once it hit 90, it encrypted the machine and demanded the user ‘renew their license’ with ‘PC Cyborg Corporation ‘ by sending $189 or $378 to a post office box in Panama.

How did ransomware evolve?

This early ransomware was a relatively simple construct, using basic cryptography which mostly just changed the names of files, making it relatively easy to overcome.

But it set off a new branch of computer crime, which slowly but surely grew in reach — and really took off in the internet age. Before they began using advanced cryptography to target corporate networks, hackers were targeting general internet users with basic ransomware.

One of the most successful variants was ‘Police ransomware’, which tried to extort victims by claiming to be law enforcement and locking the screen with a message warning the user they’d committed illegal online activity, which could get them sent to jail.

However, if the victim paid a fine, the ‘police’ would let the infringement slide and restore access to the computer. Of course, this wasn’t anything to do with law enforcement — this was criminals exploiting innocent people.

An example of ‘Police ransomware’ threatening a UK user.

Image: Sophos

While somewhat successful, these forms of ransomware often simply overlaid their ‘warning’ message on the user’s display — and rebooting the machine could get rid of the problem.

Criminals learned from this and now the majority of ransomware schemes use advanced cryptography to truly lock down an infected PC.

What are the main types of ransomware?

Ransomware is always evolving, with new variants continually appearing in the wild and posing new threats to businesses. However, there are certain types of ransomware which have been much more successful than others.

Perhaps the most notorious form of ransomware is Locky, which terrorised organisations across the globe throughout 2016. It infamously made headlines by infecting a Hollywood hospital. The hospital gave into the demands of cybercriminals and paid a $17,000 ransom to have its networks restored.

Locky remained successful because those behind it regularly update the code with changes which allow it to avoid detection. They even update it with new functions, including the ability to make ransom demands in 30 languages, helping criminals more easily target victims in around the world. Locky became so successful, it rose to become most prevelant forms of malware in its own right.

Cryptowall is another form of ransomware which has found great success for a prolonged period of time. Starting life as doppleganger of Cryptolocker, it’s gone onto become one of the most successful types of ransomware.

Like Locky, Cryptowall has regularly been updated in order to ensure its continued success and even scrambles file names to make it harder for victims to know which file is which, putting additional pressure on the victim to pay.

While some ransomware developers — like those behind Locky or Cryptowall — closely guard their product, keeping it solely for their own use, others happily distribute ransomware to any wannabe hacker keen to cash in on cyber extortion – and it’s proved to be a very successful method for wide distribution.

One of the most common forms of ransomware distributed in this way is Cerber, which has been known to infect hundreds of thousands of users in just a single month. The original creators of Cerber are selling it on the dark web, allowing other criminals to use the code in return for receiving 40 percent of each ransom paid.

Cerber has become so successful that after it has surpassed Locky – which appeared to mysteriously disappear over Christmas, although remerged in April with new attack techniques – to become the most dominant form of ransomware on the web – accounting for 90 percent of ransomware attacks on Windows as of mid-April 2017.

In exchange for giving up some of the profits for using Cerber, wannabe cyber fraudsters are provided with everything they need in order to successfully make money through extortion of victims.

Indeed, now some criminal groups offer this type of ransomware-as-a-service scheme to potential users at no cost at the point of entry. Instead of charging a fee for the ransomware code, they want a 50 percent cut.

How much will a ransomware attack cost you?

Obviously, the most immediate cost associated with becoming infected with ransomware — if paid — is the ransom demand, which can depend on the type of ransomware or the size of your organisation.

Recent research revealed that a quarter of companies which paid a ransom paid over £5,000 to retrieve their data, while a further quarter paid hackers between £3,000 and £5,000.

The most common ransom paid amongst small and medium-sized businesses was between £500 and £1500, proving that there’s still easy money to be made from targeting organisations of this size.

There are also examples of high-profile targets paying five-figure fees in order to regain access to their networks, especially in cases where criminals threaten to delete data if they’re not paid.

Ultimately, whatever the size of the company, time is money and the longer your network is down, the more it’s going to cost your business.

Even if you regain access to your networks by paying a ransom, there will be additional costs on top of that. In order to avoid future attacks — especially if you’ve been marked as an easy target — be prepared to invest in additional cybersecurity software and to pay for additional staff training.

There’s also the risk of customers losing trust in your business because of poor cybersecurity and taking their custom elsewhere.

Why should businesses worry about ransomware?

To put it simply: ransomware could ruin your business. Being locked out of your own network for even just a day will impact on your revenue. But given that ransomware takes most victims offline for at least a week, or sometimes months, the losses can be significant. Systems go offline for so long not just because ransomware locks the system, but because of all the effort required to clean up and restore the networks.

And it isn’t just the immediate financial hit of ransomware which will damage a business; consumers become wary of giving their custom to organisations they believe to be insecure.

How does ransomware infect your PC?

It’s the modern enterprise’s reliance on the internet which is enabling ransomware to boom. Everyday, every employee receives hundreds of emails and many roles require these employees to download and open attachments, so it’s something which is often done on autopilot. Taking advantage of employees’ willingness to open attachments from unknown senders is allowing cybercriminals to successfully run ransomware campaigns.

Like other forms of malware, botnets send ransomware out en masse, with millions of malicious phishing emails sent every single second. Criminals use a variety of lures to encourage targets to open a ransomware email, ranging from offers of financial bonuses, fake online purchase receipts, job applications from prospective employees, and more.

A spam email claiming the target has purchased a flight – complete with fake invoice containing the ransomware.

Image: Symantec

While some messages give away clues to their malicious nature with poorly-worded messages or strange return addresses, others are specially tailored to look as convincing as possible, and appear no different from any other message the victim might be sent.

Once the malicious attachment has been opened, the user is encouraged to enable macros in order to view and edit the document. It’s when this is enabled that the ransomware code hidden within the macros strikes. It can encrypt files in seconds, leaving the victim with a ransom note demanding a payment ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars in order to get them back.

Which organisations are targets for ransomware?

Any business can find itself a victim of ransomware, but perhaps the most high-profile incident occurred when the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles became infected with Locky ransomware. The infection left doctors and nurses unable to access patient files for days, until the hospital opted to give into the ransom demands of hackers in order to restore services.

“The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” Allen Stefanek, CEO of the hospital, said at the time.

Locky is one of the most successful forms of ransomware.

Image: F-Secure

Hospitals and other healthcare organisations are popular targets for ransomware attacks, because they are often willing to pay. Losing access to data is a life-or-death matter for them — and hospitals don’t want to be held responsible for letting people die due to poor cybersecurity. However, there are even cybercriminals who think attacking hospitals is too despicable an activity.

But there are plenty of other sectors criminals will happily target, including educational institutions, such as the University of Calgary, which paid a ransom of $20,000 to hackers. Any large business is at threat and there’s even the prospect of ransomware infecting industrial systems.

Why are small businesses targets for ransomware?

Small and medium -ized businesses are a popular target because they tend to have poorer cybersecurity than large organisations. Despite that, many SMEs falsely believe they’re too small to be targeted — but even a ‘smaller’ ransom of a few hundred dollars is still highly profitable for cybercriminals.

Why is ransomware so successful?

You could say there’s one key reason why ransomware has boomed: because it works. Organisations can have the best antivirus software in the world, but all it takes for ransomware to infect the network is for one user to slip up and launch a malicious attachment.

If organisations weren’t giving in to ransom demands, criminals would stop using ransomware. But businesses do need access to data in order to function so many are willing to pay a ransom and get it over and done with.

Meanwhile, for criminals it’s a very easy way to make money. Why spend time and effort developing complex code or generating fake credit cards from stolen bank details if ransomware can result in instant payments of hundreds or even thousands of dollars from large swathes of infected victims at once?

There are even ransomware-as-a-service schemes available on the dark web which allow the most technically inept wannabe cybercriminals to start sending out ransomware — in exchange for a percentage of their ill-gotten gains going directly into the pockets of the creators.

What does Bitcoin have to do with the rise of ransomware?

The rise of crypocurrencies like Bitcoin has made it easy for cybercriminals to secretly receive extorted payments, without the risk of the authorities being able to identify the perpetrators. The secure, untraceable method of making payments makes it the perfect currency for criminals who want their financial activities to remain hidden.

Cybercriminal gangs are becoming more professional — some even offer customer service and help for victims who don’t know how to acquire or send Bitcoin, because what’s the point of making ransom demands if users don’t know how to pay?

Globe3 ransom demand for 3 Bitcoin – including a ‘how to ‘ guide for those who don’t know how to buy it

Image: Emsisoft Lab

How do you prevent a ransomware attack?

With email being by far the most popular attack vector for ransomware, you should provide employees with training on how to spot an incoming attack. Even picking up on little indicators like poor formatting or that an email purporting to be from ‘Microsoft Security’ is sent from a obscure address which doesn’t even contain the word Microsoft within it might save your network from infection.

There’s also something to be said for enabling employees to learn from making mistakes while within a safe environment. For example, one firm has developed an interactive video experience which allows its employees to make decisions on a series of events then find out the consequences of those at the end. This enables them to learn from their mistakes without suffering any of the actual consequences.

On a technical level, stopping employees from being able to enable macros is a big step towards ensuring that they can’t unwittingly run a ransomware file. Microsoft Office 2016 — and now Microsoft 2013 — both carry features which allow macros to be disabled. At the very least, employers should invest in antivirus software and keep it up-to0date, so that it can warn users about potentially malicious files.

How do I get rid of ransomware?

The ‘No More Ransom’ initiative — launched by Europol and the Dutch National Police in collaboration with a number of cybersecurity companies — offers free decryption tools for ransomware variants to help victims retrieve their data without succumbing to the will of cyber extortionists.

The portal offers decryption tools for ransomware varients including Crypt XXX, MarsJoke, Teslacrypt, and Wildfire. It’s updated as often as possible in an effort to ensure tools are available to fight the latest forms of ransomware.

The No More Ransom portal offers free ransomware decryption tools.

Image: Europol

Another way of working around a ransomware infection is to ensure your organisation regularly backs up data offline. It might take some time to transfer the backup files onto a new machine, but if a computer is infected and you have backups, it’s possible just to isolate that unit then get on with your business.

Should I pay a ransomware ransom?

There are those who say victims should just pay the ransom, citing it to be the quickest and easiest way to retrieve dataand many organisations do pay.

But be warned: if word gets out that your organisation is an easy target for cybercriminals because it paid a ransom, you could find yourself in the crosshairs of other cybercriminals who are looking to take advantage of your weak security.

And remember that you’re dealing with criminals here and their very nature means they may not keep their word. There are stories of victims paying ransoms and still not having files returned.

What’s the future of ransomware?

Ransomware is continually evolving, with an increasing number of variants now engaging in additional activities such as stealing data or weakening infected computers in preparation for future attacks.

Researchers even warn that ransomware could soon hold whole operating systems hostage, to such an extent that the only two options available to the user would be to pay, or to lose access to the entire system.

And ransomware isn’t just a problem for Windows PCs; Apple Macs are vulnerable to it too.

Can you get ransomware on your smartphone?

Absolutely. Ransomware attacks against Android devices have increased massively, as cybercriminals realise that many people aren’t aware that smartphones can be attacked.

In fact, any internet-connected device is a potential target for ransomware, which has already been seen locking smart TVs.

Researchers demonstrate ransomware in an in-car infotainment system.

Image: Intel Security

Ransomware and the Internet of things

Internet of things devices already have a poor reputation for security. As more and more of these make their way onto the market, they’re going to provide billions of new attack vectors for cybercriminals, potentially allowing hackers to hold your connected home or connected car hostage.

There’s even the potential that hackers could infect medical devices, putting lives directly at risk.

As ransomware continues to evolve, it’s therefore crucial for your employees to understand the threat it poses, and for organisations to do everything possible to avoid infection, because ransomware can be crippling.

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Henry Sapiecha