So far in 2021, Ransomware attacks have resulted in catastrophic damages for individuals and businesses alike. Not all of these damages are monetary, either—disruption to key business functions can have long-lasting effects that can take weeks or months to completely resolve.
The problem is very real. As of the publishing of this article, it’s likely that there have been more than 100,000 ransomware attacks worldwide, with each of them costing victims an average of $170,000 in lost productivity, data breaches, and ransoms paid to the attackers.
Ransomware itself is nothing particularly new. In 1989, the PC Cyborg Virus made headlines when AIDS researchers suddenly found their computers infected with a virus that deadlocked their data until they sent $189 to a PO box located in Panama. Since then, the term ‘ransomware’ has been used to describe malicious software that holds data hostage until a ransom is paid.
Sadly, even when the ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that the compromised data is recovered.
Outsourcing Ransomware Technology
On its own, ransomware has always been an issue for IT professionals and software developers to contend with. Now, however, the problem has been further exacerbated by a new development in the evolution of ransomware: Ransomware-as-a-Service.
So, what is Ransomware-as-a-Service? How is it different from old-fashioned ransomware? And—perhaps most importantly—what can businesses and individuals do to protect themselves from this newfangled cybersecurity threat?
At its core, Ransomware-as-a-Service is commercialized ransomware technology that is sold or leased to criminals in exchange for a percentage of the ransom paid.
Here’s an analogy. Just as TurboTax allows you to use their Software-as-a-Service to pay your taxes, so too can white-collar criminals use ‘licensed’ ransomware technology to extort money from unsuspecting businesses and individuals.
Now, all it takes for a cybercriminal to inflict a ransomware attack is access to data infrastructure (either physical or virtual) and an instance of sophisticated ransomware they can get from a growing list of nefarious hacker networks located around the world.
This is vastly different from the way ransomware attacks happened in the past. Since the PC Cyborg Virus listed above, ransomware attacks were almost always inflicted by the same individuals who developed the ransomware itself. Now, the attacker doesn’t have to be a hacker. They just have to have bad intentions and access to a vulnerable system.
‘Perfect’ Timing for Ransomers
The recent advent of Ransomware-as-a-Service has cropped up for many reasons, but two major contributing factors are: COVID-related changes in how sensitive data is being transmitted across the internet, and the traceless nature of some cryptocurrencies.
With more and more people working from home in the post-COVID era, corporate data integrity has been significantly compromised. As more employees are doing their jobs from physically distributed locations across the globe, companies are being forced to institute more stringent security measures to keep threats like RaaS at bay.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin allow cybercriminals to receive money through practically untraceable transactions. Even if these transactions can be traced (many cryptocurrency wallet addresses are public), the funds can often be laundered within minutes, effectively absolving the true payment recipients of any accountability.
One cryptocurrency known as Monero is 100% private and decentralized, making it ideal for use as an untraceable ransom payment currency.
Who Is at Risk?
Companies that operate in essential services sectors are especially vulnerable to RaaS attacks. This is because they have a lot more to lose when services are disrupted, a feature which makes them highly attractive to cybercriminals.
These sectors include oil and gas pipeline operators, logistics companies, healthcare networks, data centers, and some government organizations.
Also at risk are persons or businesses with outdated computer hardware or software. Today, it’s not enough to have a simple firewall and an antivirus software installed. There needs to be an evolving IT security strategy that is overseen and executed by knowledgeable professionals.
What Can Be Done about RaaS?
Generally speaking, when it comes to dealing with the spectre of Ransomware-as-a-Service, the best offense is a good defense.
Limit your exposure to outside threats by consolidating data storage and access wherever possible. Practice good data hygiene. Continuously monitor your networks and be on alert for anything out of the ordinary. And, wherever possible, automate your threat detection and isolation systems, because the only way to keep up with a threat that changes as quickly as RaaS does is to commission the help of advanced computation to assist you.
And, as always, contact the team at Mission Critical Systems for support services related to security, IT infrastructure, and workplace efficiency optimization.