Shurn the Awesomer
Ransomware: Pay up or Die!

Ransomware: Pay up or Die!

Written on Sat, 25 March 2017

It's 5pm on the clock. Finally, you can knock off from your work and get home for a nice dinner prepared by your wife. Gladly, you hopped on your car and drive out of the parking lot.

As you approach the highway, it just struck you that everybody else is getting home too. Thankfully, the traffic is still flowing very smoothly. You drive steadily at 70 Kilometres per hour on the highway.

All of a sudden, your car accelerates to 90 Km/h on its own. You stepped on your brakes but it didn't respond as you had expected it to. You hear the sound of the locks on your door. Your state of confusion is only mixed with your state of panick as you are forced to navigate through the traffic.

Are you held hostage by your car? Did all the warnings of ransomware finally coming to pass? Your infotainment screen couldn't be more wrong: Pay $5 000 to regain control of car; Increase speed to 100Km/h in 4 minutes 36 seconds!

You want to blame yourself for not heeding those warnings, but there is no time for that now. Your life is on the line!

What is ransomware?

Merriam-webster defines ransom as:

a consideration paid or demanded for the release of somone or something from captivity

Ransomware is a type of malware that holds a victim's files, computer system or mobile device ransom, restricting access until a ransom is paid. In most likely cases, things that you hold value.

The biggest myth: I have nothing valuable

Seriously, you have not thought this through. Would you protest if you bought a computer for $1 000 only to be told that you can only use it if you paid $100 to me? Your physical machine has value on its own. I'm quite sure you will use your computer to quite a good extent if your computer cost more than $1 000.

If getting ransomware while you're driving is not enough to get your attention, you're hopeless. As our society gets increasingly connected and us relying more on technology, we best do everything it takes to

Another myth: I have firewall, anti-virus, King Leonidas, and whole of spartan army

There used to be a saying, China built the Great Wall to prevent invaders from entering. So how did its enemies invade China? By walking through the front gate.

Don't expect to rely on all the security measures in place to stop a hacker from planting ransomeware in your organisation. All it takes is a misinformed user in your organisation to accidentally allow a hacker into your network.

Yet Another myth: It's only limited to computers

Oh so you think you can just shut down the computer and never use it again? Seriously, you need to think about your life being in the line.

How about this, you are driving along the road. And suddenly, your brakes stop working, your hear the door locking, and the car just accelerates beyond your comfortable speed. Your in-entertainment screen prompts this: Pay $5 000 to regain control of your car. What are you going to do?

What does ransomware do?

They prevent you from using your computer or enterprise network normally by asking you to do something before you can use it again.

Typically, ransomware:

  • prevents you from accessing Windows.
  • encrypts files so you can't use them.
  • Stop certain apps from running, like your web browser.

What it holds ransom may not be something that is in your computer. In my example of the car ransom, your life is being held as hostage.

Even if you pay the ransom or doing what the ransomware tells you to do, there is no guarantee that it will give access to your computer or file again. Reinfection is also a real possibility, called milking the victim.

How does ransomware gain access?

Many ransomware gain access through misinformed users. There could be websites that disguise themselves as some form of authority, such as legal personnel or professional personnel, to gain users trust to download and run certain programmes on the targeted machine.

Other entries include downloading files from suspicious websites claim to give users certain benefits like free movies, musics, and softwares. Running these infected files will give hackers the backdoor access it needs.

How do I prevent ransomware?

Backup your data, maybe even OS

I am a big advocate of data backup, ever since I have lost so much data in the past.

One of my most popular tool for data backup is Clonezilla. It does hard disk clone. This is a particularly good remedy when the ransomware locks up your entire computer. You start off with cloning a clean slate of your computer, free from any infection. Then periodically, do up more clones. The downside of this method is that each clone usually takes up huge amount of space. But the upside is that, you can store these clones offline, only to dust it off when you need the data again. Offline storage is a very effective method to prevent hackers from deleting backup copies of your data.

The other alternative is to use duplicati for data backups. My most favourite feature is its strong encryption, using AES-256. When encryption, I could store the data in the cloud, such as OneDrive. The footprint of these backups are low, with incremental backup, compression, and deduplication. The easiest part of making this work, is the scheduler. I set the backups once, and forget it.

Keep your antivirus updated

First, if you don't have an antivirus running on your computer, shame on you! Windows 10 comes by default with Windows Defender. If you deliberately turn it off, face palm right now!

Windows Defender is a very decent piece of antivirus. I'm not here to argue what's the best antivirus. I'm here to tell you to at least get protected. The best thing about Windows Defender is that it comes default on Windows 10, and it's free. You have no excuse.

Now, of course, that is not enough. Make sure you keep it updated with the latest virus signatures.

If you're managing an enterprise system, you best get yourself a hardware firewall on your network. You can built your own firewall with Untangle or PFSense. It comes with open source antivirus, clamwin.

Keep everything else on the computer updated

  • Keep your Windows 10 updated
  • Keep your Ubuntu updated
  • Keep your Centos updated
  • Keep Microsoft Office suite updated
  • Keep Libreoffice update
  • Keep Chrome updated
  • Keep Firefox updated

Do I need to say more?

Get educated

Seriously, your users need to know that if the screen prompts them to download something because somebody says you need to download it, doesn't mean they should. Don't download anything from anywhere that is not trusted.

What should I do if I'm infected with ransomware?

That's a tough question. If your life is on the line, I guess you are out of options but to pay the ransom fee.

These hackers make a living out of getting paid from these ransoms. By paying these ransoms, you are effectively funding their operations for more ransoms. It goes without saying that we should not be paying, but it may not be the best course of action. When you are dealing with patient's data in a hospital, it could be a matter of life and death.

All these makes prevention all the more important. The more valuable the subject is, the more measure you should have in place to prevent it.

If you are infected by Crilock family of ransomware, there is a lot of hope. FireEye and Fox-IT tool can help you recover your encrypted files.

I have backups, what should I do?

If you have done your backups accordingly and have enough measure to protect the backup, you have a safeguard. The very first thing you should do is the prevent the infection from spreading. Followed by getting rid of possible entries of re-infection, so that when your restoration effort don't get wasted, or worst, backups get ransomed too.