Why Ransomware will Rise in 2015

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Be afraid. Seriously. Ransomware is growing up fast, causing painful disruptions across the Internet, and it will get much worse in 2015.

Ransomware is the criminal activity of taking hostage a victims important digital files and demanding a ransom payment to return access to the rightful owner. In most cases files are never removed, simply encrypted in place with a very strong digital lock, denying access to the user. If you want the key to restore access to precious family photos, financial documents, or business files, you must pay.

An entertaining and enlightening opinion-editorial piece in The New York Times highlighted how an everyday citizen was impacted, the difficulties in paying the ransom, and how professional the attackers support structure has become.

Everyone is at risk. Recently, several law enforcement agencies and city governments were impacted.  Some of which paid the attackers for their “Decrypt Service.” This form of digital extortion has been around for some time, but until recently it has not been too much of a concern.  It is now rapidly gaining in popularity as it proves an effective way of fleecing money from victims both large and small.

With success comes the motivation to continue and improve. Malware writers are investing in new capabilities, such as Elliptic Curve Cryptography for more robust locks, using the TOR network for covert communications, including customer support features to help victims pay with crypto-currency, and expanding the technology to target more than just static files.

Attackers are showing how smart, strategic, and dedicated they are. They are working hard to bypass evolving security controls and processes. It is a race. Host based security is working to better identify malware as it lands on the device, but a new variant, Fessleak, bypasses the need to install files on disk by delivering malicious code directly into system memory. TorrentLocker has adapted to avoid spam filters on email systems.  OphionLocker sneaks past controls via web browsing by using malicious advertising networks to infect unsuspecting surfers.

One of the most disturbing advances is a newcomer RansomWeb’s ability to target databases and backups. This opens up an entirely new market for attackers. Web databases have traditionally been safe from attacks due to technical complexities of encrypting an active database and the likelihood of good backups which could be used in the event of an infection. RansomWeb and the future generations which will use its methods, will target more businesses.  Every person and company on the web could come across these dastardly traps and should be worried.

Cybersecurity Predictions

In this year’s Top10 Cybersecurity Predictions, I forecasted the growth of ransomware and a shifting of attacks to become more personal. The short term outlook is definitely leaning toward the attackers. In 2015 we will see the likes of CryptoWall, CoinVault, CryptoLocker, RansomWeb, OphionLocker, Fessleak, TeslaCrypt, TorrentLocker, Cryptobit and others, continue to evolve and succeed at victimizing users across the globe.  It will take the very best security minds and a depth of capabilities working together to stunt the growth of ransomware.

Security organizations will eventually get the upper hand, but it will take time, innovation, and a coordinated effort. Until then, do the best you can in the face of this threat. Be careful and follow the top practices to protect from ransomware:

  1. A layered defense (host, network, web, email, etc.) to block malware delivery
  2. Savvy web browsing and email practices to reduce the inadvertent risk of infection
  3. Be prepared to immediately disconnect from the network if you suspect malware has begun encrypting files
  4. Healthy regular backups in the event of you become a victim and must recover

Alternatively, if you choose not to take protective measures, I recommend becoming familiar with cryptocurrency transfers and stress management meditation techniques.

Twitter: @Matt_Rosenquist

IT Peer Network: My Previous Posts

LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/matthewrosenquist

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Matthew Rosenquist

About Matthew Rosenquist

Matthew Rosenquist is a Cybersecurity Strategist for Intel Corp and benefits from 20+ years in the field of security. He specializes in strategy, measuring value, and developing cost effective capabilities and organizations which deliver optimal levels of security. Matthew helped with the formation of the Intel Security Group, an industry leading organization bringing together security across hardware, firmware, software and services. An outspoken advocate of cybersecurity, he strives to advance the industry and his guidance can be heard at conferences, and found in whitepapers, articles, and blogs.