What is Cryptoware?
Becoming infected with malware can be problematic for any business, but it is even more troubling whenever that malware is cryptoware. Encountering a cryptoware virus such as Locky can quickly bring your operations to a halt, which is why it is important to know how to protect yourself against these type of cyber attacks. The Locky virus, for example, can be disguised as an email delivering a document with an invoice requesting payment methods for your data. If the user opens this document and follows it’s directions this could lead a company down a very damaging path.
Cryptoware is a type of malware that belongs to the ransomware families. It begins as a Trojan virus that is normally hidden in email attachments. When the receiver opens the attachment, the virus then begins encrypting ransomware files on that computer. Once these files are encrypted, the user will then have to pay a “ransom” to have the files unencrypted. Most people are willing to pay up since the level of encrypted data is so secure that it would take a great deal of time and resources to break it. However, even if you make a ransom payment, there is no guarantee you will actually get your sensitive information back.
How Files are Infected
A cryptoware attack begins with an email attachment from what appears to be a reputable email address. Although the attachment is an executable file, the .exe extension is not immediately visible since most email clients hide file extensions by default. Instead, the attachment is marked as “letter.pdf” and therefore does not appear unusual. However, when the attachment is opened, the Trojan virus silently executes, encrypting files until all of them are useless. When finished, the virus will send you a ransom notice via a popup on your screen. This notice requires payment through Bitcoin, making it very difficult to track who you are sending the money to.
Best Practices For Avoiding a Cryptoware Infection
There is no method of ridding your computer of cryptoware aside from paying the ransom, which means that cyber security prevention is key. Here are some recommendations for Best Practices to follow to protect your company from a cryptoware attack.
- Experts recommend keeping your anti virus program up to date on your computer systems. Also, keep other software up to date as well such as your Adobe Flash Player and Java.
- Security experts also recommend only opening email attachments from those who you trust. And be extra cautious with email attachments that are sent from some who you do not know.
- Turn your user account control settings to Always Notify so that programs cannot make changes to your computer without telling you first.
- Enable your computer to reveal file extensions. This is a good way to see a file in its entirety. Sometimes “.EXEs” (executable files) are used by ransomware developers to deliver corrupted files. You’ll want to be able to see the whole file name to make sure there are no file extensions such as “.exe” tucked into a file name. An example would be: rainshowers.jpg.exe
- Back up information using a cloud storage service such as OneDrive or Google Drive so that if you are infected, you won’t feel pressured to pay the ransom. Using a pen drive or portable operating system to access emails can be useful as well. Also, it’s helpful to have a backup strategy in place as to determine where copies of backup files will be specifically stored. This will help to keep files secure in case of a cyber attack and help you remain calm knowing exactly where all copies of your backup files are located.
One reason why cryptoware is such a growing threat is that it is a booming business. Cerber is one company that offers Ransomware as a Service (RaaS), offering an affiliate program that now has 160 participants. Affiliates are able to launch their own campaigns via the Cerber platform, and are able to keep 60% of the profits. In exchange, the company provides them with access to management tools, Bitcoin laundering, and the harmful code. Despite the fact that only 0.3% of all victims pay, Cerber is still on track to make around $2.3 million by the end of 2016.
Types of Ransomware Strains
- CTB Locker
- Petya Trojan
Since ransomware is such a lucrative business, there are likely to be even more attacks in the future. You must constantly be aware of the dangers if you are to avoid the costly effects of becoming a victim. Please give us a call or contact us here if you feel your business may be at risk of a Cryptoware infection.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.