How Does Ransomware Spread?
How Does Ransomware Spread?
In the modern age, information is often more valuable than money itself. With the right information, almost anything is possible. Hackers and cybercriminals know this better than anybody…
Hackers often target high-profile executives, celebrities, and even politicians in an effort to gain access to private information that they can use to gain leverage or extort for ransom. However, you don’t have to be a person of interest to be victimized by ransomware. In fact, pretty much anybody could be targeted by ransomware.
After all, most people have their entire lives stored on their personal devices. Just think about how many private photos, videos, and messages you have on your laptop or phone that you wouldn’t want falling into the wrong hands. We’re willing to bet that many of our readers would readily pay $100 to a hacker to regain access to their phone or laptop.
The real question you should be asking yourself is, “How does ransomware spread, and how can I prevent it?”
In today’s article, we’ll start by giving you a quick breakdown of what ransomware is and how it works. Then, we’ll provide you with a detailed list of how ransomware spreads, the most common types of ransomware attacks, and what you can do to protect yourself and your devices from ransomware attacks.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware or computer virus that’s designed to take control of your personal files, folders, and even your entire device. Once the malware infiltrates your security systems, it can completely lock you out of your system by encrypting it.
Once the ransomware has done its work, you’ll usually be shown a message that prompts you to communicate with the originator of the ransomware. The hackers or scammers on the other end will threaten to permanently delete your data, share your data, or permanently lock you out of your device unless you pay a ransom (hence why it’s called ransomware).
In the case of high-profile individuals, hackers may demand a higher ransom due to the more valuable nature of the data that they have control of. However, everyday individuals are often targeted with lower-cost schemes designed to extort a few hundred bucks or less.
How Ransomware Spreads | Top 6 Ways
If you want to learn how to prevent ransomware, then you’ll first need to understand the top 6 ways that ransomware spreads, in the first place. Ransomware is a piece of malware that infects your device.
As a piece of malware, it has to be embedded or downloaded on your device before it can start working. This makes it especially important to double-check every file that you download on your device.
If you don’t download any files at all, there’s very little chance that you’ll ever be targeted by ransomware. Of course, that’s pretty much impossible, which means you need to be wary of where you download files from.
So, with that in mind, here are the top 6 ways that ransomware spreads.
1. RaaS (Ransomware as a Service): Believe it or not, there are whole teams of hackers and scammers that operate around the world providing ransomware as a service (commonly referred to as RaaS). These individuals actively spread ransomware around the web and often handle the ransom process by receiving anonymous payments and unlocking the infiltrated device.
While ransomware schemes are often operated by these RaaS groups, sometimes they’re actually controlled by a wealthier, more powerful individual who contracts them to act as a middleman. This ensures that the incident can’t be traced back to the real hacker.
These RaaA groups are usually the ones responsible for sending out phishing emails and messages, embedding viruses in torrent files, infecting and distributing seemingly innocent software, and leaving little links to their malware throughout the web.
2. Phishing Emails: Phishing emails are one of the most common methods that scammers use to infect your computer with ransomware. Phishing emails are random messages that typically come from somebody disguised as an otherwise trustworthy source. The writer may claim that they’re an agent from your bank, IRS, phone company, or somebody contacting you about a prize that you’ve won.
Most phishing emails work by redirecting you to an external website, where they’ll usually ask you to enter some personal information or download a “safe program” on your device. These programs almost always contain some type of malware, and may often be infected with ransomware.
3. Torrenting: Torrenting is peer-to-peer file sharing where files are “seeded” by everybody else who’s hosting the file on their device. If you go to a torrent site like Pirate Bay, you may find multiple versions of the same file hosted for download. While some torrents may be okay to download, others may be infected.
You also should not trust the “reviews” section under the listed torrent, as these are often populated by RaaS groups to make you think that the torrent is legitimate.
4. Gaming Sites: Gaming websites that require users to download game files onto their devices are often cesspools of ransomware and computer viruses. Many of these gaming sites are targeted at children and teens, who typically have no idea what malware is or that it might be contained in the innocent games they think they’re downloading.
Some of the most common instances of computers becoming infected with malware involve kids who use their parents’ phones or computers to play games. The next time the parent opens up the computer, they find themselves completely locked out of it and being asked to pay a ransom.
5. Illegal Movie Sites: Illegal movie sites that claim to offer “free” streaming of exclusive titles or movies that are only showing in theatres are often a source of virus programs and ransomware.
While you’re distracted by watching your movie, the sites may begin to download files and programs in the background. These sites may also distribute ransomware by showing a pop-up asking you to download a special “video player” necessary for streaming their movies.
6. Pornography Sites: This one should go without saying… the majority of free porn sites out there are littered with ransomware. Sometimes, the ransomware on these sights may not even have to lock you out of your device; they’ll just threaten to expose all of your dirt online or infect your computer with more pornographic pop-ups. For some, this is more than enough to warrant paying a quick ransom to cover their shame!
7. The Dark Web: In the early days, the dark web was almost exclusively used by hackers and other “smart” individuals who probably knew how to avoid catching a computer virus. Today, however, the dark web is more commonly known throughout society and it’s a lot more common to find those who aren’t so tech-savvy exploring darknet sites.
The dark web is completely unregulated (at least compared to the clearnet), which means that hackers can embed ransomware on any number of .onion sites and the Tor browser. As the dark web also happens to be full of illegal or quasi-legal content, most victims of dark web ransomware tend to avoid going to the authorities about the matter and end up paying the ransom instead. This is why the dark web is such a hub for malware at this time.
Common Types of Ransomware Attacks
There are generally three different types of ransomware attacks. Many of them target public wi-fi users who don’t have VPN-secured connections or trick you into downloading suspicious files on your device. Each has a separate goal with one end in mind – to get you to pay a ransom to stop the attack.
- Device/Account Locking: One of the most common ransomware attacks simply involves encrypting your device and locking you out of it. Imagine if you open up your laptop one day only to find that your password doesn’t work and you can’t get in! To regain access to your device, the scammers require payment.
- Destruction of Data: For those who have sensitive data and information that isn’t backed up, this can be a big one. For example, a hacker might target a musician’s laptop where the only copy of their new album is stored. Then, they may threaten to destroy the records if their demands aren’t met.
Today, almost everybody has some type of backup storage, so this attack is less common. However, if you’ve been procrastinating when it comes to backing up your phone or laptop, then you could be at risk.
- Doxxing: Doxxing is similar to blackmail. Once the hackers have access to your sensitive data and have locked you out of it, they may threaten to release all of the data to the public if you don’t pay their ransom. This can be an especially big problem for high-profile individuals like politicians, business executives, etc.
Prevent Yourself From Being The Next Victim of Ransomware
The best thing you can do to prevent your device from being attacked by ransomware is to scrutinize every download you make and every unknown message you receive. Ask yourself, “Is this file coming from a reputable distributor? Would somebody from [xyz organization] REALLY ask me to visit a suspicious site or require personal information over email?”
In addition to scrutinizing your browsing and download habits, you should also keep yourself protected while you’re on public wi-fi networks (like those at your local library or cafe). Hackers may also be on these networks and can tap into your internet traffic, perform a man-in-the-middle attack, and hijack your computer to download ransomware on it.
The best way to protect yourself while using a public network is to activate a reliable VPN service while you’re connected to the public network. This will re-route all of your internet data through an encrypted third-party server, where nothing you do on the internet can be viewed by anybody else on the same network.
Some of the top-rated VPNs, such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN, allow you to connect to remote VPN servers in countries all over the world, ensuring that your online activity can never be tracked! By disguising and encrypting your online presence, you’ll make yourself less of a target for hackers and reduce the likelihood of you becoming a ransomware victim.