Significant infrastructure has several sections that experience a weakening effect on the advancement of a country’s economic and security sectors. The development of critical infrastructure and redundancy maintains physical and virtual facilities, systems, and networks. Communication division is a crucial infrastructure that has transformed from ancient systems like voice services into a varied interlinked industry including transport, health, and defense using terrestrial, satellite, and wireless communication.
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The communication industry involves interdependence among the providers to enhance uninterrupted traffic and share resources that promote interoperation among them. The communication sector constitutes both private and public providers responsible for their systems’ security and redundancy of the vital infrastructure.
Every organization endeavors to ensure the safety of the communication sector due to the interlinkages among many other industries such as the energy sector, information technology, the financial service industry, and the transport systems sector. Despite the efforts by different sectors to use communication systems to enhance their operations, malicious software has threatened critical infrastructure.
Malware is a group of software that has features meant to cause harm to a user’s computer or network that offers services. Among viruses, spyware, and ransomware, ransomware has proven to produce sophisticated attack vectors, including numerous alterations that have caused adverse effects on a broad range of industries (Reshmi, 2021).
Different trends within the network on information security exploits revolve around ransomware. On the other hand, malware exists in various variants that influence operating systems. Ransomware exhibits different features that affect information security in operating systems. This research paper attempts to describe ransomware as a complex malware and its characteristics. The report also discusses the factors, prevalence, detection, prevention, and mitigation strategies against malicious software.
Causes and Occurrence and Effects of Ransomware Attacks
The use of outdated windows operating systems significantly exposes an organization to ransomware attacks. Most PCs in government institutions use obsolete operating systems hence vulnerable to various types of ransomware attacks. For instance, India has continued to be a suitable target of ransomware attacks, especially on businesses, due to the prevalence of outdated Windows operating systems (Reshmi, 2021).
A significant number of PCs in government departments also face ransomware attacks due to the failure of regular Windows updates. Insufficient education and training on ransomware and other malware attacks in organizations make employees vulnerable to cybercriminals. Port of San Diego and COSCO attacks resulted from the unhygienic operation of operating systems that enable the malware to penetrate through spam email campaigns (Reshmi, 2021). The unknowledgeable workers open and download malicious attachments.
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Cyber-attacks can cause devastating effects on the normal operations of organizations. For instance, cyberattacks in Texas crippled the computer systems of two cities due to the inefficiency of the municipalities against advanced hackers. Florida and Maryland have also faced ransomware attacks that have cost millions of dollars in ransoms that the vulnerable towns had to pay (Robles, 2017). Such crippling computer systems that stall the effective operation of organizations and institutions are more disastrous since it has no specific department to be accountable for.
Characteristics of Ransomware
Ransomware executes its activities in different forms from other malicious software during its attack. The malware uses different vectors to attack, including malicious advertisements, compromised sites, spamming, social engineering, and drive-by downloads (Javaheri et al., 2018). The infection due to the malware occurs in locally or remotely stored files or in memory. However, a new variant can go file-less and affect the memory, which cannot be detected by static or dynamic malware inquiry.
The ransomware malware encrypts only a few bytes of files to remain unnoticed during the initial stages of the attack before changing the file extensions in the final phases of infection. The malware uses notes in the form of images, texts, or HTML files to become identifiable, leading to login denial to the computer.
The ransomware dominantly infects and compromises computers that use Windows Operating System (OS). The malware’s effect is similar among systems like IoT devices, mobile gadgets, and personal computers. The malware has a characteristic impact that includes encryption of the files, altering the Master Boot Record, deleting files, stealing information, and escalating privileges (Chen, 2017).
Ransomware has a characteristic ability to access more files than the normal system operations, after which it inserts new values that cause access denial or file deletes. The malware also can delete the canary files, which are significant to the Anti-ransomware software, hence avoiding its detection. The malware is also capable of cracking the access limitations and getting access to network servers, resulting in encryption or deletion of files or backups.
Variants of Ransomware
Ransomware has alternates that make it intensively dangerous to communication systems and also challenging to detect. The two dominant variants include Crypto, which encrypts all the user data files and demands to sharing of the key for decryption. The Locker ransomware exhibits a privilege intensification approach using several management applications and limits the resources accessible to the users. Ransomware variants started to appear a few decades ago, such as the PC Cyborg in December 1989 (Reshmi, 2021).
Locker ransomware includes SMs and Fake FBI which began in 2004. Other examples of ransomware variants are Cryptolocker, Cryptowall, File Coder, and GPCode encrypting the file or data existing in the compromised device (Herrera silva et al., 2019). Some variants attack the non-system file, such as network shares, thus preventing file recoveries without paying the ransom.
Another variant is the Filecoder which has raw access to files like volume, and group information using Defragmentation API and then overwrites the documents. On the other hand, the Seftad ransomware infects the MBR. It substitutes it with invalid MBR, which leads to a display of a ransom payment text hence prohibiting the compromised system from loading the boot code in the active partition.
Additionally, ransomware alternatives like Urausy, Reveton, and Winlock generate a consistent desktop lock plan during attacks (Reshmi, 2021). The US National Security Agency (NSA) also developed EternalBlue, an exploit that uses privilege escalation techniques and injects malware on an endpoint.
Detection of Ransomware Attacks
Several techniques are beneficial in analyzing and identifying cryptographic modules, and the identification criteria include two main categories; static and dynamic analysis. Static analysis is applicable in the detection of crypto-binary functions before their effect. The method also functions as a tool in heuristic analysis, like the availability of loops, entropy, and high rates of bitwise activities.
The dynamic analysis employs the technique of assessing the aggregation of contiguous memory access from input and output parameters in the study and detection of malware. Many machine designs enable them to detect both existing and new ransomware attacks using ML algorithms (Reshmi, 2021). The majority of the ransomware detection techniques that use ML techniques require monitored learning approaches, hence needing a training period.
The market possesses several sources that can help analyze, detect, and attack malware recovery. The solutions act on the structures of the ransomware interactions from the logs of network communication, system states, and I/O connections. For instance, the decoy files are s solution that misallocates the intended file of attack for ransomware. However, the new variants of the malice software have ways of differentiating the original and decoy files using an entropy calculation (Brewer, 2016). Although the available solutions apply different methods in detecting ransomware, the techniques’ limitation is the inability to see and prohibit new attacks.
Prevalent Effects of Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware attacks have been successful and detrimental since 2017, extending their rampage in 2018. Incidents such as attacks on government systems that disrupted general operations were prevalent, raising public concern. The malware also attacked the Wasaga Beach and Midland municipalities in Canada. Various ravages of medical organizations such as LabCorp and the Singaporean Health System caused distress due to uncovering sensitive patient information (Reshmi, 2021). Three is, therefore, the need for organizations to employ diverse practical solutions for detecting potential cyber-attack and the eventual establishment of ransomware elimination.
Prevention Methods for Ransomware Attacks
Training of Organization’s Employees
Cybercriminals intensely examine an organization’s employees on digital sites such as social media platforms and unsafe places where they unknowingly expose themselves and hence the weakest links. The criminals’ research assesses the employee’s security that involves the employee’s effective use of an operating system and the internet.
Therefore, the ransomware navigates through the workers’ spam emails they download without an appropriate thought procedure (Pinhasi, 2019). Employees’ behavior of clicking on shady links enables the ransomware to enter through a mischievous payload that could be detrimental to the entire organization’s system.
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Educating and transforming employees into cybersecurity agents against advanced ransomware types is essential. The training process could involve giving information on the actual instances of ransomware attacks, such as the port of San Diego and COSCO, their distribution, and infection techniques (Pinhasi, 2019). The training needs to involve practical attacks to develop a practical understanding of the threats. On the other hand, the workers can receive training on handling ransomware attacks that lock their devices to facilitate smooth malware removal.
A Total Threat Intelligence Solution
Ransomware has several cunning operations that can trick employees who adhere to the security procedures of an organization. Effective Ransomware removal, therefore, requires the development of a threat intelligence solution that has various components (Chen, 2017). First, an organization can develop vulnerability prioritization that ensures it tackles the riskiest ransomware threats quickly since the attacks have different impacts.
Brand monitoring is also an effective way to research an organization on all digital channels like social media platforms to detect any IT expert concealing malicious objectives. The procedure can also identify the organization’s existence on a dark web that produces cybercriminals. The other intelligent solution procedure may involve using modern Anti-Ransomware Tools that use AI and Machine Learning for detection, alerting the authorities about any potential attack.
Patching and Updating
The use of outdated windows operating systems significantly exposes an organization to ransomware attacks. Most PCs in government institutions use obsolete operating systems hence vulnerable to various types of ransomware attacks.
The design of ransomware targets vulnerabilities in Windows OS. Another contributing factor is the use of the old Windows XP, which lacks Window’s support for security updates. For instance, India has continued to be a suitable target of ransomware attacks, especially on businesses, due to the prevalence of outdated Windows operating systems (Pinhasi, 2019). A significant number of PCs in government departments also face ransomware attacks due to the failure of regular Windows updates.
Patching and updating are essential to both the OS and the application software, which require frequent maintenance. Frequent updates would limit the attacks from cybercriminals who target ordinary software and try to exploit any potential susceptibility by attacking outdated accounts (Anderson, 2016). Weekly or fortnight updates are essential to ensure that organization’s systems and application software are analyzed and safe from any cyber threat.
The Macros Conundrum
Macros are used for obtaining business productivity in which the mouse and keyboard are essential gadgets for routine tasks that have lately become suitable target tools for these types of malware attackers. Macros-enabled tools link with system tools like PowerShell and operate scripts that aid in hackers’ control gain of systems which in turn initiates their ability to modify the Windows Registry Keys and eventual turning off of security apparatus (Pinhasi, 2019). Switching off the security tools establishes contacts with the Command and Control Station of the cybercriminals’ resulting in encryption and other ransomware operations.
Solutions to the attack problems of the macros puzzle are available in the modern Microsoft Office versions, which contain enhanced security skins able to avoid such cybercriminals’ manipulations. The modern versions have a “Disable all macros except digitally signed macros” setting which prevent malware manipulations although the procedure needs all the stakeholders’ knowledge and includes macro-related features to avoid impact on business productivity.
The Use of Backups
Data has in the modern world become a priceless asset for cybercriminals operations which exploit the digital space depending on the sensitivity of the information. The ransom amount that cybercriminals hunt based on the contents ranges from $100 to $50000 ransom with other extreme amounts such as the SamSam Ransomware that once earned $64000 from a victim (Pinhasi, 2019). The adoption of backups is essential since they help neutralize cybercriminals’ activities. Backups can be situated at different sites.
Backups can be stored at an onsite location at an organization’s prime properties. An organization can also put the jam at an offsite location which is a separate site. The provider can also offer a backup spot at the cloud providers’ servers. Despite the available backup options, there is a need to ensure a single backup device with no internet and network connection of a company or an organization to prohibit cybercriminals’ access.
Ransomware attacks would continue to evolve and create more threats to business and institutions’ activities, affecting productivity. Therefore, it is essential to consider all the possible solutions to strengthen the business and execute a concrete cyber protection solution able to transform a company or organization into an impermeable fortification.
It is essential to improve the tools and techniques against the ever-evolving ransomware activities in the modern era. The monitoring of ransomware attacks and infections requires mature and complex movements that can detect early detection. Intensive research has revealed several features that can indicate early detection of new or new ransom alternates, hence enabling early elimination operations. Good policies that include guidelines for protecting organizations from ransomware threats are essential.
There is also the need for corporations to establish multidimensional prevention resolution, which requires robust IT infrastructure with the management of IT professionals who do maintenance, troubleshooting, and compliance management. Organizations should embrace the proposals on local hosts, servers, and clouds that facilitate the detection and prevention of attacks. It is appropriate for organizations to allocate resources for strengthening cybersecurity to limit financial, legal, and reputational damages.
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Javaheri, D., Hosseinzadeh, M., & Rahmani, A. M. (2018). Detection and elimination of spyware and ransomware by intercepting kernel-level system routines. IEEE Access, 6, 78321-78332. Web.
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Reshmi, T. R. (2021). Information security breaches due to ransomware attacks-a systematic literature review. International Journal of Information Management Data Insights, 1(2). Web.
Robles, F. (2019). Who’s to blame for ransomware attacks? A fired i.t. chief fights back. New York Times. Web.