Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks the victim from accessing their computer, or certain files on their computer, until a ransom is paid to the hacker. The malware may be delivered to a computer through a phishing attack. The victim may receive an email from a trusted contact or organisation, in which the phisher has included an attachment. The attachment harbours the software, so when it is opened, the computer becomes infected and the victim is denied access.
Ransomware has become a bigger and bigger threat in recent years. According to Verizon, the communications company, it was the most-used type of malicious software in 2018, accounting for 39% of malware phishing attacks. This is double the proportion of malware attacks which were made with ransomware in 2017.
Ransomware attacks may be on the rise because of the availability of the software online. Hackers don’t need to come up with the software themselves; ransomware can simply be purchased on the dark web. It requires very little effort on the part of the phisher, but with a large payback for their little effort. The victims are comparatively helpless, and can do little else but pay the ransom.
Phishers are no longer just targeting individuals with their attacks. Large organisations, with larger wallets, are witnessing a larger number of attacks on their systems. The attacker sometimes simply close down access to their systems in demand for the ransom. Other attackers will hold certain information ransom, such as the private medical information of patients if they attack a healthcare provider. As the organisation could face huge legal issues if their patient’s data is released, they are forced to pay the fines.
Due to the relative ease at which these attacks occur, it is likely that they will only become more common in years to come.
It is difficult to protect against these types of attacks. The most straightforward way is to teach employees about the dangers of phishing. If the employees know how to spot suspicious emails, they won’t be inclined to open the attachments and then inadvertently introduce the malware into the system. Preventing the system from being compromised, instead of dealing with the after-effects of the attack, is the easiest way to ensure a company’s security isn’t compromised.
Employees should be taught to never open emails from unfamiliar senders. Or, if they do open emails, never follow links embedded in the email or open attached PDF files or images. If they do accidentally click a link in an email or open an attachment, they should be encouraged to contact the IT department as quickly as possible and disconnect their device from the network to try to mitigate the damage. The IT department can assess if the hacker has acquired unauthorised access to the system. They can also tell the rest of the organisation of the potential breach so that others can be vigilant for similar scams. Regular phishing training workshops are recommended, as are emails informing employees about the latest scams that are circulating the internet.