Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts important files and systems in an organization's computer network, rendering them inaccessible. While it originally targeted individual computers, it now goes after larger, more important systems like servers and databases, making the problem even worse. To get their files and systems back, victims are usually asked to pay money, often in cryptocurrencies.


In recent years, ransomware has become more complicated. Some newer versions not only lock files but also steal sensitive information, such as passwords. Criminals then use this stolen information to put even more pressure on victims to pay the ransom. This type of cyber-attack affects many sectors, including government, healthcare, and key public services, leading to significant financial losses and operational disruptions.

How it works?

how ransomware works

Ransomware is highly effective due to its use of asymmetric encryption, a secure method that utilizes a pair of distinct public and private keys.


The malware usually infiltrates a system through deceptive emails, malicious links, or by exploiting existing security gaps. Once inside, it releases code that initiates the encryption, effectively locking valuable files such as documents, images, and databases. The private key needed to unlock these files is typically only released upon payment of the ransom.

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There are different categories of ransomware, including "encryptors," which focus primarily on locking files, and "screen lockers," which prevent user access by displaying a lock screen. In both instances, victims are prompted to pay a ransom, often in digital currencies like Bitcoin, to regain control over their data or systems. 


However, it's important to note that paying the ransom doesn't guarantee the safe return of your files. In some cases, victims may receive no decryption key or may find additional malware installed on their systems after payment.


The risk associated with ransomware has grown with the emergence of  Ransomware as a Service (RaaS), a model that allows more individuals to carry out these types of attacks. Additionally, modern ransomware is capable of exploiting system vulnerabilities to spread throughout an organization, escalating a localized issue into a more extensive crisis that requires immediate attention. 



How Ransomware Spreads

For an effective cybersecurity strategy, it's crucial to recognize the routes that ransomware typically takes to infiltrate systems. Below are some of the most frequently used methods:


1. Human-Focused Methods


  • ·  Phishing Campaigns:  Emails designed to appear as if they are from trusted sources often contain malicious attachments, such as ZIP files or PDFs, that can activate the ransomware when opened.
  • ·  Insider Threats: Tactics such as bribing employees for network access are becoming more common as users grow more alert to phishing attacks.
  • ·  Social Engineering: Attackers are increasingly using modern communication channels, including social media, to trick users into clicking on malicious links.
  • ·  Public WiFi: Public networks frequently lack robust security protocols, making them a viable channel for distributing ransomware.


2. Technology-Based Vectors


  • ·  Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): This protocol serves as a common entry point for attackers, allowing them to infiltrate networks and move laterally across systems.
  • ·  Unpatched and Zero-Day Software: Vulnerabilities in outdated or zero-day software provide alternative pathways for ransomware attacks.
  • ·  Portable Storage Devices: USB drives and other portable storage devices can serve as vectors for introducing ransomware into otherwise secure networks.
  • ·  Remote Work Tools: Technologies such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software can be compromised, posing additional security risks.



By understanding these commonly encountered avenues, organizations can effectively develop policies, implement technological safeguards, and maintain a heightened level of vigilance in a constantly evolving threat landscape.





What are Ransomware Attacks?


A ransomware attack involves the deployment of ransomware against targeted systems and networks, aiming to induce maximum operational disruption. Attackers use methods such as sending phishing emails, exploiting technological vulnerabilities, or using social engineering to gain system access. Once inside, they initiate the encryption process and present their ransom demands. Advanced attacks add another layer of urgency by also exfiltrating sensitive data.




Types of Ransomware



The world of ransomware is changing fast, becoming more complicated as new types emerge. Understanding these different forms is vital for putting in place a strong and flexible defense against cyber-attacks. 


Additionally, there are various ransomware families, such as WannaCryptor, Stop/DJVU, and Phobos, each bringing its unique traits. Being aware of these variations helps in strategizing specialized defenses that are more targeted and effective. 


Below is a list of the most frequently encountered types of ransomwares, categorized based on their modus operandi.


· Crypto Ransomware or Encryptors: A mainstay in the malicious toolkit, Crypto Ransomware specializes in encrypting files and data, often utilizing advanced encryption algorithms. This tactic makes the data inaccessible until a decryption key, usually obtainable only through a cryptocurrency payment, is applied. Among this category, ransomware families like WannaCryptor have gained notoriety for their wide-reaching and devastating impacts.

· Lockers: Focusing on system interaction rather than data integrity, Lockers incapacitate key functionalities of a computer, often displaying a ransom note on a locked screen. While they may not encrypt data, the disruption they cause is palpable. The Phobos ransomware family, for instance, has been known to utilize locker tactics alongside encryption methods.

· Scareware: Operating primarily through psychological manipulation, Scareware purports to be legitimate antivirus software. It inundates users with incessant alerts about fabricated malware infections and often demands payment for “removal services.” Some advanced variants may also lock the computer, borrowing techniques from Lockers. Many times, scareware is the gateway to the infamous tech support scammers.

· Doxware or Leakware: Doxware presents an augmented threat by seizing sensitive data and threatening its public release. Stakes here are elevated by the reputational risk involved. Occasionally, you may encounter police-themed ransomware, which masquerades as law enforcement, asserting that the user can avoid legal ramifications by paying a fine. 

· Mobile Ransomware: As smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous in daily life, Mobile Ransomware has followed suit. These attacks target either the usability of the device or the data stored on it, compelling victims to pay for restoration.

· DDoS Extortion: While not a conventional form of ransomware, DDoS Extortion employs similar principles—coercing victims into making financial payments to avert disruptions. Here, the threat lies in overwhelming a network or website with an influx of traffic, temporarily disabling its functionalities.






How to recover from a ransomware infection?



To decrypt files compromised by ransomware, you'll need an appropriate decryption tool. Identify the specific ransomware variant affecting your system and consult cybersecurity experts for tool availability. 


Many of them, like the ransomware remediation tools offered by Bitdefender Labs, are available free of charge. Swift and decisive action is crucial to prevent further dissemination of the ransomware, gauge its impact, and begin the recovery procedures.


Use the following action plan as a roadmap for ransomware recovery and establishing subsequent long-term protection. It outlines key steps, from initial signs of an attack to post-incident analysis, to help you restore affected systems and strengthen your cybersecurity measures.


Isolation and Containment

The first course of action should be to limit the ability of the malware to proliferate across your infrastructure.

· Isolate Affected Devices: Immediately disconnect the compromised hardware from the network, the internet, and other connected devices.

· Stop the Spread: Terminate all forms of wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) and isolate devices that show irregular behavior to prevent widespread disruption across the enterprise.


Assessment and Identification: 

Next, thoroughly analyze the impact and origin of the attack to inform subsequent steps.

· Assess the Damage: Examine systems for encrypted files, abnormal file names, and collate user reports of issues with file accessibility. Develop a comprehensive list of compromised systems.

· Locate Patient Zero: Scrutinize antivirus notifications, Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platforms, and human-generated leads such as suspicious emails to pinpoint the infection source.

· Identify the Ransomware Variant: Employ ransomware identification resources like Bitdefender Ransomware Recognition Tool or study the details in the ransom note to specify the ransomware strain in question. 


Legal Obligations: 

Following the immediate technical responses, it's critical to address legal responsibilities.

· Notify Authorities: Report the incident to appropriate law enforcement agencies. This action may not only assist in data recovery but is sometimes essential for compliance with laws such as CIRCIA (US) or GDPR (EU).


Recovery and Restoration:

With the groundwork in place, the focus shifts to restoring compromised systems and ensuring the malware is entirely eradicated.

· Evaluate Your Backups: If up-to-date backups are at hand, initiate system restoration, ensuring that antivirus and anti-malware tools eliminate all remnants of the ransomware prior to restoring the system.

· Research Decryption Options: In cases where backups are not an option, consider free decryption tools such as the ones mentioned before, from Bitdefender. Make sure all traces of malware are eradicated before attempting decryption.


System Sanitization and Security Upgrades: 

With immediate threats neutralized, the emphasis should now be on identifying weaknesses and improving your cybersecurity architecture.

· Eradicate the Threat: Conduct a root-cause analysis, typically guided by a trusted cybersecurity expert, to identify all system vulnerabilities and completely remove the threat from your network.

· Prioritize Restoration: Focus first on restoring the most mission-critical systems, considering their effect on productivity and revenue streams.


Final Options and Forward Planning

As you move towards normalization, keep an eye on long-term strategies to mitigate the likelihood of future attacks.

· Reset or Rebuild: If backups or decryption keys are unattainable, resetting the systems to factory settings or a complete rebuild may be inevitable.

· Futureproofing: Bear in mind that previous ransomware victims are at higher risk of subsequent attacks. Therefore, a post-incident audit should focus on potential security upgrades to mitigate future risks.


In conclusion, a coordinated, informed approach to recovery can lessen damage and speed up your return to normal operations. 

How To Prevent Ransomware Attacks?


Individuals and organizations, both large and small, are grappling with the increasing frequency and sophistication of ransomware attacks. Yet, the impact of ransomware can be significantly mitigated, if not altogether prevented, through a judicious blend of technological interventions and cybersecurity training.


· Stay Current with Cybersecurity Solutions: An always-updated cybersecurity software, that performs active scanning and offers real-time protection against various forms of cyber threats, including ransomware (anti-ransomware technology).

·  Be Cautious with Email: Exercise scrutiny when receiving emails with links or attachments. Implement advanced email filtering and anti-spam technologies to fortify your email security.

· Robust Backup Strategy: Consistently back up vital data using the so-called 3-2-1 strategy (that is: three copies of your data, two different types of media, and one copy stored offline) to facilitate quick recovery in the event of an attack. 

· Multi-layered Endpoint and Network Security: Utilize advanced endpoint protection systems in conjunction with network segmentation and real-time monitoring. This approach limits ransomware propagation and identifies abnormal network activity early.

· Least Privilege and Multi-factor Authentication: Implement the 'Least Privilege Principle' in user access controls and enforce multi-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security.

·  Regular Security Audits and Incident Planning: Regularly assess your security posture through comprehensive audits, including sandbox testing, and maintain a well-rehearsed incident response plan to address vulnerabilities and react effectively to potential breaches.

· Ongoing Training and Awareness: Invest in continuous security training programs for your team, making them aware of red flags like social engineering and phishing attempts, thereby empowering them as an additional layer of defense. 


By incorporating these diversified approaches into your cybersecurity strategy, your organization is better equipped to mitigate the risks posed by increasingly sophisticated ransomware attacks.  More details, insights and practical advices you can find in the dedicated document regarding ransomware prevention.


Protect Your Organization from Ransomware Attacks


All the tips and measures described above can fail, which is why experts recommend that both home and business users employ advanced business security solutions. Bitdefender offers awarded and independently ranked #1 tailored products for both individual and business needs.

In the business landscape, Bitdefender's GravityZone products offer scalable solutions from small to large enterprises. These solutions incorporate advanced prevention mechanisms including Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) capabilities, multi-layered protection technologies against phishing, ransomware, and fileless attacks, and advanced prevention with threat context & reporting.


By integrating Bitdefender's security solutions into your network, you augment the efficacy of existing safeguards like firewalls and intrusion prevention systems. This results in a holistic and resilient defense against malware threats, making it more difficult for attackers to penetrate your systems.

Does ransomware steal data?

Ransomware primarily focuses on encrypting data to make it inaccessible rather than stealing it.

However, newer variants of ransomware have evolved to include tactics like exfiltrating data and threatening to release it publicly unless a ransom is paid. This approach is sometimes referred to as "double extortion."

So, while the primary function of ransomware is to encrypt data, some variants do engage in data theft as an additional leverage tactic.

Can ransomware be decrypted?

The decryption of ransomware-affected files depends on several factors, including the specific ransomware variant involved and the availability of decryption tools.

For some older or less sophisticated ransomware strains, cybersecurity firms and researchers have developed free decryption tools that can assist in data recovery. However, for newer or more advanced variants, decryption without the unique key held by the attacker can be exceedingly difficult or virtually impossible.

You can check here the currently available Bitdefender Free Tools.

Can ransomware attack cloud storage?

Yes, ransomware can target cloud storage. While cloud storage providers implement robust security measures to protect data, they are not completely immune to ransomware attacks. If a user's endpoint device is compromised and has syncing privileges with the cloud storage, encrypted or compromised files may overwrite the healthy ones in the cloud.

Additionally, some advanced ransomware variants are designed to seek out and encrypt network drives and cloud storage resources that the infected system can access. Consequently, relying solely on cloud storage as a safeguard against ransomware is not a foolproof strategy; additional protective measures are essential.