You wake up with bloodshot eyes after banging on your keyboard in the wee hours of the night to beat the deadline for a grand project. But on powering your computer the following morning, suddenly a red banner flashes on your screen coaxing you pay Ksh50,000 to access your files.
Welcome to the world of Ransomware and it is just beginning. That is ominous warning experts have given to both private and public sector organisations in Kenya pointing to an imminent rise in cyberattacks in the form of Ransomware.
The underground criminal world has devised a way to lock your data and get you to part with a tidy ransom for it. Ransomwares viruses are often disguised as innocuous emails, links or pop-ups, thereby easily hoodwinking gullible users to grant access to their system for infiltration and eventual takeover for ransom. “Anyone is vulnerable,” says Bruce Donovan, Regional Manager for ESET East Africa, a security solutions firm.
There are now multiple ransomware viruses roaming around the internet. Though they typically operate like Trojan horses, infecting your computer without you knowing, only in this instance, the bugs aren’t corrupting your files;they encrypt them.
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For law enforcement agencies, governments, small and large enterprises among others, lack of access to critical data can be disastrous in terms of the loss of sensitive important information, the interference with regular operations, financial losses suffered for data restoration, and possible reputational crisis.
The TeslaCrypt ransomware, for example, has been in widespread among cybercriminals since it was launched last year.
But in an unforeseen turn of events, criminals behind the ransomware released the master decryption key for TeslaCrypt. Security vendor ESET has used that key to develop a decryptor tool for TeslaCrypt and recently made it free to public.
However, this does signal the end of Ransomware, criminals are increasingly accessing new and more effective Ransomware. According ESET East Africa, “It is important to note that ransomware remains one of the most prevalent forms of internet threats and prevention is essential to keep users safe. Therefore, users should keep their operating systems and software updated, use a reliable security solution with multiple layers of protection, and regularly backup all important and valuable data at an offline location,” says Donovan.
He explains that just like with many maladies plaguing human kind, prevention is often the best way to tackle the threat of Ransom Attacks.
Cybercrime remains a lucrative enterprise. To keep ahead of their game, criminal gangs invest a lot of time in research and development to contrive new forms of attacks, with Ransomware becoming their favourite pass time.
This is particularly so, in this age of social media where through social engineering techniques, criminals are able to evolve faster than the markets. Social engineering refers to the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.
As the East African region forges ahead economically and continues to attract new investments and interest from global companies, hackers are swarming in.
This calls for added vigilance by private sector organisations and governments and who are more likely to fall victims to a ransom attack. Critical is to be aware of the vulnerability in the first place, since many attacks are disguised as legitimate links and prompts.
“Very few organisations invest in testing out risk scenarios as well as backup and disaster management and recovery solutions, which is the best tool available in response to ransomware threats, other than data encryption,” says Mr Donovan.