'Perfect' ransomware is the scariest threat to your PC
Nothing spurs malware development like success, and that’s likely to be the case in the coming months with ransomware.Welcome to the Brave new world. The orginal article has embedded links, and more details about the evolution of this software, the way it spreads, and it's potential future applications.
Ransomware has been around for around a decade, but it wasn’t until last fall, with the introduction of CryptoLocker, that the malevolent potential of the bad app category was realized. In the last four months of 2013 alone, the malicious software raked in some $5 million, according to Dell SecureWorks. Previously, it took ransomware purveyors an entire year to haul in that kind of money.
So is it any wonder that the latest iteration of this form of digital extortion has attracted the attention of cyber criminals? A compromised personal computer for a botnet or Distributed Denial of Service attack is worth about a buck to a byte bandit, explained Johannes B. Ullrich, chief research officer at the SANS Institute. “With ransomware, the attacker can easily make $100 and more,” he said.
What distinguishes CryptoLocker from past ransomware efforts is its use of strong encryption. Document and image files on machines infected with the Trojan are scrambled using AES 256-bit encryption, and the only way for a keyboard jockey to regain use of the files is to pay a ransom for a digital key to decrypt the data.
Honor among thieves
The CryptoLocker crew also know the value of maintaining good customer relations. “They’re honoring people who do pay the ransom,” said Jarvis, of SecureWorks.
“In most cases they’re sending the decryption keys back to the computer once they receive payment successfully,” he explained. “We don’t know what the percentage of people who successfully do that is, but we know it’s part of their business model not to lie to people and not do it.”
Moreover, in November, they began offering support to victims who, for whatever reason, fail to meet the hijackers’ ransom deadlines. By submitting a portion of an encrypted file to the bad actors at a black website and paying the ransom, a victim can receive a key to decrypt their files. “You have to reinfect yourself with the malware but once you do that, you can get a successful decryption,” Jarvis explained.
"It is inevitable that we will see a cryptographic ransomware toolkit,” he added, “maybe even multiple toolkits because it’s clear that there’s a business opportunity here for criminals.”
Moreover, that opportunity is likely to reach beyond the consumer realm and into the greener pastures of business. “Going after consumers is small fish,” said Bruen, of the Digital Citizens Alliance. “The next step is to conduct ransom operations on major companies. This has already happened,” he said.
“From an attacker’s perspective, there’s definitely a higher risk in getting caught because companies are going to throw more money at the problem than an ordinary consumer can,” he continued, “but the payoff from one of these companies—a Target or a Nieman Marcus—will be much larger.”
Current ransomware attacks involve encrypting select file types on a hard drive, but a business attack will likely choose a higher value target. “Cryptographic keys and digital certificates are ripe for ransom,” Venafi’s Bocek said.
"Whether it’s taking out the key and certificate that secures all communications for a bank or the SSH keys that connect to cloud services for an online retailer, keys and certificates are a very attractive target,” he observed. [...]
I've already come across a lesser "scareware" version of Ransomeware, that was mentioned in the article. It locked up one of my Linux computers, and wanted payment to unlock it, so this isn't just a Microsoft thing. I was able to get rid of it by uninstalling my browser, clearing the cache, and reinstalling Firefox. But what they are talking about in this article is much more advanced.