Ransomware isn’t really anything new. Chances are you’ve at least heard of the threat that encrypts your files or locks you out of your computer if you or someone you know has fallen victim to the threat. It’s a terrible feeling to have your files held hostage, and while it’s possible to remove the ransomware and regain access to your files, the fear of being held hostage by a hacker doesn’t go away.
The good news is that even though the actual number of known ransomware “campaigns” is increasing, the number of successful attacks is decreasing. Whether that is due to better vigilance on the part of individuals, improved detection and blocking, more sophisticated and effective ransomware removal tools and services, or a combination of factors is unknown, but the fact remains that ransomware is still a threat.
To better understand this threat, it’s useful to look at some of the trends in ransomware, which will help you more effectively protect your data.
Hackers are Going for Bigger Targets
In the early days of ransomware, most ransomware was aimed at individuals, with relatively low ransoms. After all, when the hackers demanded gift cards, they weren’t looking to get millions of dollars out of their victims.
Today, though, most hackers using ransomware are going after high-value targets, including major corporations, and they aren’t asking for gift cards. High-value targets are more lucrative, as businesses will pay tens of thousands of dollars to decrypt files. In the infamous WannaCry attack of 2017, for instance, the hackers demanded payment in bitcoin. This doesn’t mean that individual users aren’t still at risk; one report notes that the typical ransom is still only about $500, showing that low-level targets can still be lucrative. Remain vigilant and take steps to avoid all forms of malware, with the understanding that you are a less attractive target as an individual.
Newer Systems are Less Vulnerable
Generally speaking, the newer your operating system, whether you use Windows or Mac, the less vulnerable you are to a ransomware attack. Older operating systems, especially those running on Windows, have more vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, whereas the newest versions are tougher to crack. You still need to install updates and patches as needed, as hackers will seek to exploit any weakness they can, but you are less likely to have problems with newer operating systems.
Phishing is Still Common
The most common method for spreading ransomware remains phishing emails. Hackers are skilled at tapping into the human tendency to avoid negative consequences and have created sophisticated phishing campaigns that spur victims to download ransomware just by clicking a link. However, phishing isn’t the only way ransomware is spread. Hackers are also using pirated software, torrent sites, and file sharing to spread malware. Therefore, to avoid getting ransomware,
- Use strong antivirus protection that will detect and block phishing emails.
- Never click on links in suspicious emails. Even if it looks like a legitimate email, navigate directly to the site without clicking.
- Don’t open attachments from unknown senders. If you receive an attachment from someone you know, confirm they sent it and scan before opening.
- Use a password manager that won’t work on a spoofed website.
- Never use pirated or illegal versions of software. Ransomware is only one risk.
- Scan all downloads before opening or installing them.
Ultimately, keeping your computer up-to-date, using antivirus software, and being smart about downloads will go a long way toward preventing ransomware infection.
Delayed Ransomware Attacks
Not all ransomware attacks happen immediately. Some security experts predict a trend in ransomware in which hackers will “plant” ransomware to engage at a later date. The user is unlikely to realize what’s lurking in the background until something triggers the virus and it takes over. This type of ransomware isn’t yet widespread, but it is more challenging to identify and block since it’s usually hiding within something innocuous.
This is in line with another trend, in which the point of the malware is simply to cause trouble and disrupt normal operations, or to hide additional malware. Again, individuals are less likely to be targeted by this type of malware, but it’s still important to be aware of the threat. Should you become infected by ransomware, it’s vital to check for additional malware as well, as the ransomware could have been little more than a distraction.
The threat landscape is constantly changing and staying one step ahead of cybercriminals is a challenge. However, by understanding the major trends in this risk, you’ll be better prepared to protect yourself, and avoid that panic that comes with ransomware.