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Do you ever ask yourself what is ransomware or how it can impact you? The purpose of ransomware is to encrypt your important files using malicious software. The criminals then demand payment from you in exchange for the decryption key, challenging you to prove that you have paid the ransom before they will provide you with instructions to recover your files. It’s the equivalent of paying off a kidnapper for the release of your loved one.

“There were 236.1 million ransomware assaults worldwide in the first half of 2022. Between the second and fourth quarters of 2021, there were 133 million fewer ransomware attacks, a sharp decline from approximately 189 million cases.” ~Statista

Ransomware has been in the news, and you’ve probably seen reports about computers locking themselves down until people pay for a key to escape. But what is ransomware exactly, how does it work, and how can we defend ourselves against it?

What is Ransomware Working?

Ransomware is typically installed as an attachment to spam emails or exploiting software vulnerabilities on the victim’s computer.

The infection may be hidden in a file the user downloads from the Internet or installed manually by an attacker, often via software packaged with commercial products.

Once installed, ransomware waits for a trigger condition (such as connecting to the Internet) before locking the system and demanding a ransom for its release. The ransom can be paid using either cryptocurrencies or credit cards.

Types of Ransomware

“As of 2021, the average ransomware breach cost was $4.62 million, not including the ransom.”~IBM

Here are some common types of Ransomware attacks:

WannaCry

In 2017, the ransomware assault known as WannaCry affected more than 150 nations. Upon infecting a Windows machine, WannaCry encrypts user files and demands a bitcoin ransom to unlock them.

Locky

Locky is one of the oldest forms of ransomware and was first discovered in February 2016. The malware encrypts files rapidly and spreads through phishing emails with attachments that look like invoices or other business documents.

Maze

Maze is a newer ransomware that was first discovered in May 2019. It works similarly to Locky, except that it ends encrypted file names with .maze instead of locky. Spam emails also spread Maze, but it infects your computer by opening an attached file.

NotPetya

According to early reports, NotPetya is a ransomware variation of Petya, a strain initially discovered in 2016. Now, NotPetya is a type of malware called a wiper, which destroys data instead of demanding a ransom.

Scareware

Scareware is phony software that demands payment to fix problems it claims to have found on your computers, such as viruses or other issues. While some scareware locks the computer, others saturate the screen with pop-up notifications without causing any file damage.

Doxware

As a result of doxware or leakware, people become alarmed and pay a ransom to prevent their confidential information from being leaked online. One variant is police-themed ransomware. A fine may be paid to avoid jail time, and the company is posing as law enforcement.

Petya

The Petya ransomware encrypts entire computers, unlike several other variants. Petya overwrites the master boot record, which prevents the operating system from booting.

Ryuk

Ryuk infects computers by downloading malware or sending phishing emails. It uses a dropper to install a trojan and establish a permanent network connection on the victim’s computer. APTs are created with tools such as keyloggers, privilege escalation, and lateral movement, all of which begin with Ryuk. The attacker installs Ryuk on every other system he has access to.

What is Ransomware’s Impact on Business?

Ransomware is one of the fastest-growing cyber threats today. 

Here are some of the ways ransomware can affect your business:

  • Ransomware can compromise your data, which can be expensive to recover or replace.
  • Your systems may be damaged beyond repair, as some ransomware attacks overwrite files with random characters until they’re unusable.
  • You may experience downtime and loss of productivity, which could lead to lost revenue or customer loyalty.
  • The hacker could steal your company’s data and sell it on the black market or use it against other companies in future attacks.

How To Protect Your Business From Ransomware Attacks?

“Install security software and keep it up to date with security patches. Many ransomware assaults employ earlier versions for which security software countermeasures are available.” ~Steven Weisman, a professor at Bentley University. 

To protect your business from ransomware, you can take the following steps:

Network Segmentation

Network segmentation is the process of isolating one network from another. By isolating networks, you can protect your business and its data. 

You should create separate segments for public Wi-Fi, employee devices, and internal network traffic. This way, if an attack occurs in one segment, it won’t affect the others.

AirGap Backups

AirGap backups are a type of backup that’s completely offline and cannot be accessed without physically removing the storage device from the computer it’s connected to. The idea is that if there’s no way to access the files on that device, then there’s no way an attacker can access them either. A good example of this would be using an external hard drive that has been completely disconnected from any internet connections or other devices with access to it.

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance

More often than not, ransomware is distributed via emails. Fraudulent emails come with phishing links that can initiate ransomware installations on your computer. To prevent this, DMARC acts as the first line of defense against ransomware. 

DMARC prevents phishing emails from reaching your customers in the first place. This helps stop ransomware distributed via emails at the root of inception. To learn more, read our detailed guide on DMARC and ransomware

Least Privilege (Zero Trust for User Permissions)

Least privilege refers to granting users only the minimum permissions necessary for their roles within your organization. When you hire someone new or reassign a role within your company, you will give them only those permissions needed for their specific role — nothing more or less than that required for them to do their job efficiently and effectively.

Protect Your Network

Firewalls are the first line of defense for networks. It monitors incoming and outgoing traffic on your network and blocks unwanted connections. The firewall can also monitor traffic for certain applications, such as email, to ensure it is safe.

Staff Training & Phishing Tests

Training your employees on phishing attacks is essential. This will help them identify phishing emails before becoming a major company problem. A phishing test can also help identify employees who may be more susceptible to phishing attacks because they don’t know how to identify them correctly.

Maintenance & Updates

Regular maintenance of your computers will help prevent malware from infecting them in the first place. You should also update all software regularly to ensure that bugs are fixed as soon as possible and that new software versions are released with new security features built in.

Related Read: How To Recover from a Ransomware Attack?

Conclusion

Ransomware isn’t a mistake. It’s a deliberate method of attack, with malicious implementations ranging from slightly annoying to downright destructive. There is no sign that ransomware will slow down, and its impact is significant and growing. All businesses and organizations need to be prepared for this.

You need to be on top of security to make yourself and your business safe. Use the tools and guides provided by PowerDMARC if you want to stay safe from these vulnerabilities.

Recent years have seen increased ransomware attacks, infecting computers and forcing users to pay fines to get their data back. As new ransomware tactics such as double extortion prove successful, criminals demand bigger ransom payments. Ransom demands averaged $5.3 million in the first half of 2021, up by 518% over the same period in 2020. Since 2020, the average ransom price has climbed by 82 percent, reaching $570,000 in the first half of 2021 alone.

RaaS, or Ransomware-as-a-Service, makes this attack even more dangerous by allowing anyone to launch ransomware attacks on any computer or mobile device with a few clicks. As long as they have an internet connection, they can take control of another computer, even one used by your boss or employer! But what exactly does RaaS mean? 

What is Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS)?

Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) has become a popular business model in the cybercrime ecosystem. Ransomware-as-a-service allows cybercriminals to easily deploy ransomware attacks without any knowledge of coding or hacking needed.

A RaaS platform offers a range of features that make it easy for criminals to launch an attack with little to no expertise. The RaaS provider will provide the malware code, which the customer(attacker) can customize to fit his needs. After customization, the attacker can deploy it instantly via the platform’s command and control (C&C) server. Often, there is no need for a C&C server; a criminal can store the attack files on a cloud service such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

The RaaS provider also provides support services that include technical assistance with payment processing and decryption support after an attack.

Ransomware-as-a-Service explained in plain english

If you have heard about Sofware-as-a-Service and know how it works, understanding RaaS should be a no brainer since operates on a similar level. PowerDMARC is also an SaaS platform as we assume the role of problem-solvers for global businesses helping them authenticate their domains without putting in the manual effort or human labour. 

 

This is exactly what RaaS is. Technically gifted malicious threat actors over the internet form a conglomerate that operates in the form of an illegal business (usually selling their services over the dark web), selling malicious codes and attachments that can help anyone over the internet infect any system with ransomware. They sell these codes to attackers who do not want to do the more difficult and technical part of the work themselves and are instead looking for third parties who can assist them. Once the attacker makes the purchase he can go on to infect any system. 

How does Ransomware-as-a-Service Work?

This form of revenue model has recently been gaining much popularity among cybercriminals. Hackers deploy ransomware on a network or system, encrypt data, lock access to files, and demand a ransom payment for decryption keys. The payment is typically in bitcoin or other forms of cryptocurrency. Many ransomware families can encrypt data for free, making their development and deployment cost-effective. The attacker only charges if victims pay up; otherwise, they don’t make any money from it. 

The Four RaaS Revenue Models:

While it may be possible to build ransomware from scratch using a botnet and other freely available tools, cybercriminals have an easier option. Instead of risking getting caught by building their tool from scratch, criminals can subscribe to one of four basic RaaS revenue models: 

  • Affiliate programs
  • Monthly subscriptions
  • Bulk sales
  • Hybrid subscription-bulk sales

The most common is a modified affiliate program because affiliates have less overhead than professional cybercriminals who often sell malware services on underground forums. Affiliates can sign up to make money by promoting compromised websites with links in spam emails sent to millions of victims over time. After that, they only need to pay out when they receive ransom from their victims.

Why is RaaS Dangerous?

RaaS enables cybercriminals to leverage their limited technical capabilities to profit from attacks. If a cybercriminal has trouble finding a victim, he can sell the victim to a company (or several companies).

If a cybercriminal finds attacking online targets challenging, there are now organizations that will sell him vulnerable targets to exploit. Essentially, anyone and everyone can launch a ransomware attack from any device without using sophisticated methods by outsourcing their efforts through a third-party service provider, making the entire process effortless and accessible.

How to Prevent Ransomware-as-a-Service Exploits?

In a ransomware-as-a-service attack, hackers rent out their tools to other criminals, who pay for access to the code that helps them infect victims’ computers with ransomware. The sellers using these tools get paid when their customers generate revenue from the infected victims.

Following these steps can help you prevent ransomware-as-a-service attacks:

1. Know the Attack Methods

There are several different ways ransomware can infect your organization. Knowing how attacks are conducted is the best way to protect yourself from them. Knowing how you’ll be attacked can focus on what security systems and protections you need, rather than just installing antivirus software and crossing your fingers. 

Phishing emails are a common path for many cyberattacks. As a result, employees must be aware not to click on embedded links or open attachments from unknown senders. Regularly reviewing company policies around email attachments can help prevent infection by phishing scams and other malware delivery methods like macro viruses and trojans.

2. Use a Reliable System Security Suite

Make sure that your computer has updated security software installed at all times. If you don’t have antivirus software, consider installing one right away. Antivirus software can detect malicious files before they reach their target machines, preventing any damage from being done.

3. Back up Everything Regularly

Having all your information backed up will help prevent the loss of important information if your system becomes infected with malware or ransomware. However, if you get hit by virus or malware attacks, the chances are all of your files will not get regularly backed anyway — so make sure you have multiple backups in different locations just in case one fails!

4. Opt for Phishing Protection with Email Authentication

Phishing emails are extremely common and potent attack vectors in ransomware exploits. More often than not, hackers use emails to try and get victims to click on malicious links or attachments that can then infect their computers with ransomware. 

Ideally, you should always follow the most updated security practices in the market and only download software from trusted sources to avoid these phishing scams. But let’s face it, when you’re a part of an organization with several employees, it is foolish to expect this from each of your workers. It is also challenging and time-consuming to keep a tab on their activities at all times. This is why implementing a DMARC policy is a good way to protect your emails from phishing attacks.

Let’s check out where DMARC falls in the infection lifecycle of RaaS: 

  • Attacker purchases malicious attachment containing ransomware from a RaaS operator 
  • Attacker sends a phishing email impersonating XYZ incorporation  with the purchased attachment to an unsuspecting victim 
  • The impersonated domain (XYZ inc.) has DMARC enabled, which initiates an authentication process by verifying the indentity of the sender 
  • On verification failure, the victim’s server deems the email as malicious and rejects it as per the DMARC policy configured by the domain owner

Read more about DMARC as the first line of defense against ransomware here. 

  • DNS Filtering

Ransomware uses command and control (C2) servers to communicate with the platform of RaaS operators. A DNS query is often communicated from an infected system to the C2 server. Organizations can use a DNS filtering security solution to detect when ransomware attempts to communicate with the RaaS C2 and block the transmission. This can act as an infection-prevention mechanism. 

Conclusion

While Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is a brainchild and one of the most recent threats to prey on digital users, it is critical to adopt certain preventative measures to combat this threat. To protect yourself from this attack, you can use powerful antimalware tools and email security protocols like a combination of DMARC, SPF, and DKIM to adequately secure every outlet.

One of the largest focuses for email security in the last year has been around DMARC and ransomware has emerged as one of the most financially damaging cybercrimes of this year. Now what is DMARC? Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance as an email authentication protocol is used by domain owners of organizations big and small, to protect their domain from Business Email Compromise (BEC), direct domain spoofing, phishing attacks and other forms of email fraud.

DMARC helps you enjoy multiple benefits over time like a considerable boost in your email deliverability, and domain reputation. However a lesser known fact is that DMARC also serves as the first line of defense against Ransomware. Let’s enunciate how DMARC can protect against Ransomware and how ransomware can affect you.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that is installed on a computer, usually through the use of malware. The goal of the malicious code is to encrypt files on the computer, after which it typically demands payment in order to decrypt them.

Once the malware installation is in place, the criminal demands a ransom be paid by the victim to restore access to the data. It allows cybercriminals to encrypt sensitive data on computer systems, effectively protecting it from access. The cybercriminals then demand the victim pay a ransom sum to remove the encryption and restore access. Victims are typically faced with a message that tells them their documents, photos, and music files have been encrypted and to pay a ransom to allegedly “restore” the data. Typically, they ask the users to pay in Bitcoin and inform them how long they have to pay to avoid losing everything.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware has shown that poor security measures put companies at great risk. One of the most effective delivery mechanisms for ransomware is email phishing. Ransomware is often distributed through phishing. A common way this occurs is when an individual receives a malicious email that persuades them to open an attachment containing a file they should trust, like an invoice, that instead contains malware and begins the infection process.

The email will claim to be something official from a well-known company and contains an attachment pretending to be legitimate software, which is why it is very likely that unsuspecting customers, partners, or employees who are aware of your services would fall prey to them.

Security researchers have concluded that for an organization to become a target of phishing attacks with malicious links to malware downloads, the choice is ” opportunistic.” A lot of ransomware doesn’t have any external guidance as to who to target, and often the only thing guiding it is pure opportunity. This means, any organization whether it is a small business or a large enterprise, can be the next target if they have loopholes in their email security.

2021 recent security trends report have made the following distressing discoveries:

  • Since 2018, there has been a 350% rise in ransomware attacks making it one of the most popular attack vectors in recent time.
  • Cyber security experts believe there will be more ransomware attacks than ever in 2021.
  • More than 60% of all ransomware attacks in 2020 involved social actions, such as phishing.
  • New ransomware variants have increased by 46% in the last 2 years
  • 68,000 new ransomware Trojans for mobile have been detected
  • Security researchers have estimated that every 14 seconds a business falls victim to a ransomware attack

Does DMARC Protect Against Ransomware? DMARC and Ransomware

DMARC is the first line of defense against ransomware attacks. Since ransomware is usually delivered to victims in the form of malicious phishing emails from spoofed or forged company domains, DMARC helps protect your brand from being impersonated, which means such fake emails will be marked as spam or not get delivered when you have the protocol correctly configured.  DMARC and Ransomware: how does DMARC help?

  • DMARC authenticates your emails against SPF and DKIM authentication standards that helps filter malicious IP addresses, forgery and domain impersonation.
  • When a phishing email curated by an attacker with a malicious link to install ransomware arising from your domain name reaches a client/employee server, if you have
  • DMARC implemented the email is authenticated against SPF and DKIM.
  • The receiving server tries to verify the sending source and DKIM signature
  • The malicious email will fail verification checks and ultimately fail DMARC authentication due to domain misalignment
  • Now, if you have implemented DMARC at an enforced policy mode (p=reject/quarantine) the email after failing DMARC will either get marked as spam, or rejected, nullifying the chances of your receivers falling prey to the ransomware attack
  • Finally, evade additional SPF errors like too many DNS lookups, syntactical errors and implementation errors, to prevent your email authentication protocol from being invalidated
  • This ultimately safeguards your brand’s reputation, sensitive information and monetary assets

The first step to gaining protection against ransomware attacks is to sign up for DMARC analyzer today! We help you implement DMARC and shift to DMARC enforcement easily and in the least possible time. Start your email authentication journey today with DMARC.