Ransomware: It's the stuff of nightmares: You open your laptop one morning and discover all your documents and pictures have been encrypted or that non-ransomware programs prevent your computer from booting. You see a message in broken English pasted across the screen demanding you pay a ransom to have your files or computer unlocked. In the past two years, ransomware has seen a significant increase as more users choose digital storage methods over physical record-keeping for critical documents, photos and other information. Here's a look at the history of ransom code, how it has impacted users in the past year and what you can expect in the future.
Ransomware is a type of malware designed to hijack computers and force victims to pay ransoms to have their files decrypted. Hackers infect your computer by prompting you to download a malicious email attachment or visit a code-carrying website, which ultimately encrypts your critical files or denies access to your computer. Two main forms of this malware are currently popular:
The first modern ransom malware emerged in 2005 with Trojan.Gpcoder. In 2015, more than 58 percent of corporate PCs were attacked with malware, and cryptolocker attacks doubled, according to Kaspersky Labs. Locker ransomware made up approximately 20 percent of ransomware. According to Softpedia, the number of corporate ransom attacks has doubled in 2015, even as law enforcement agencies look to shut down ransom code creators and servers.
2015 saw a number of new ransom malware types emerge:
Victims often wonder if they're better off paying the ransom to ensure data is returned, and some people agree. At the 2015 Cyber Security Summit, Assistant Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta of the FBI advised companies infected with malware to pay ransoms. According to Kaspersky Labs, however, that's a bad idea. First, there's no guarantee that cybercriminals will keep their word and decrypt your data. Second, the more money they earn, the more likely they are to try again. Finally, both security firms and law enforcement organizations are working hard to find and post valid decryption keys, so it's worth checking the Web for possible solutions before shelling out cash.
This year certainly won't be the last for ransomware, so what does the future hold for digital extortion? According to MakeUseOf, there are a few likely scenarios. Vehicle-based ransom malware is one option, since researchers have already demonstrated that it's possible to hijack and take total control of a moving vehicle. Smart home technology, such as security cameras, door locks and thermostats is also a possible avenue, because these devices require Wi-Fi and many are poorly secured against brute-force attacks. There's also the risk of health-based ransomware, which targets devices such as pacemakers, implants or health monitors. The burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) offers a host of connective possibilities and is short on security standards.
Ransom malware is here to stay. Its form and targets may change, but the method is tried and true. If you're infected, try not to panic: Look for help online, don't pay up, and consider the use of real-time security protection moving forward to help detect and quarantine ransom threats before they lock you out.
Other helpful reads and links related to Ransomware