Hi guys,

I hope this message finds you well. I know I’ve already written about ransomware before, but I want to rehash it to explain it more simply. Today, I want to talk about something crucial for individuals and small business owners – ransomware attacks. These attacks can happen to anyone, and the consequences can be devastating. Let’s dive into what ransomware is, how these attacks can happen, and real-life examples to illustrate just how easy it is to fall victim.

What is a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware is malicious software designed to block access to a computer system or data until a sum of money (ransom) is paid. These attacks can target anyone, from individuals to large organizations.

How Ransomware Attacks Happen

For Individuals:

  1. Phishing Emails:
    • Example: You receive an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate source (e.g., your bank, a friend, or a company you trust). The email contains a link or an attachment. Once you click the link or download the attachment, the ransomware is installed on your device.
    • Real-Life Example: An individual received an email claiming to be from a delivery service with a tracking link. Clicking the link downloaded ransomware that encrypted all files on their computer.
  2. Malicious Websites:
    • Example: Visiting a compromised website that automatically downloads ransomware onto your device without any action on your part. This can happen through “drive-by downloads” where just visiting the site infects your computer.
    • Real-Life Example: A person browsing for free software on a sketchy website unknowingly downloaded ransomware that locked all their photos and documents, demanding payment for decryption.
  3. Infected Software:
    • Example: Downloading software or apps from untrusted sources that are infected with ransomware. This often happens with free software or cracked versions of paid software.
    • Real-Life Example: An individual downloaded what they thought was a free version of a popular game, which turned out to be ransomware that encrypted their files and displayed a ransom note demanding Bitcoin.

For Small Business Owners:

  1. Targeted Phishing Attacks:
    • Example: Employees receive emails appearing to be from the company’s CEO or a trusted vendor. The email instructs them to open an attachment or click a link, resulting in ransomware installation.
    • Real-Life Example: A small business received an email that appeared to be from a major supplier. An employee opened an attachment that installed ransomware, encrypting the company’s financial records and customer data
  2. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Exploits:
    • Example: Attackers exploit weak passwords or vulnerabilities in remote desktop protocols to gain access to a business’s network, then deploy ransomware.
    • Real-Life Example: A small accounting firm had an RDP connection with a weak password. Hackers gained access, installed ransomware, and encrypted all client records, demanding a ransom for decryption keys.
  3. Malware Infected Updates:
    • Example: Businesses use third-party software for various operations. Hackers compromise the update server of the software, pushing out updates that contain ransomware.
    • Real-Life Example: A small marketing agency used a project management tool. Hackers compromised the tool’s update server, and an update installed ransomware that encrypted all project files and client information.

Why It Matters

Ransomware attacks can be devastating, leading to loss of important data, financial loss, and significant downtime. For individuals, it can mean losing precious memories stored in photos and personal documents. For small businesses, it can mean the loss of critical business data, customer trust, and financial stability.

Historical Note on Ransomware

About 15 years ago, we developed what I believe was the first ransomware system, except it was sold to small businesses and large enterprises as a way to protect against rogue employees stealing company information. We built a module called remote encryption that allowed an employer to remotely encrypt any data belonging to the company. When the data was back in the company’s hands, they were then able to remotely decrypt it. This is what I believe to be the first ransomware solution. This illustrates how technology can be used for good when built with the right intentions and how it can be twisted for malicious purposes by cybercriminals.

Stay vigilant and protect yourself from ransomware threats by keeping your systems and software updated, educating yourself and your employees about phishing scams, and implementing strong security measures.

All the best,
Stephen McCormack