Ransoming computer data is nearly as old as the Internet and is definitely older than Bitcoin cryptocurrency. A recent outbreak of the ransomware has involved a number of attacks on health care institutions and became a hot topic far beyond tech news.
A classical ransomware would deprive the victims of access to their data applying a private key encryption. The key is only available to the attackers until after the victims buy it. For a long while, any particular technique has not dominated among ransom payment methods. The crooks behind the cyber extortion would accept money via bank transfers, all sorts of vouchers and cell phone credits. However, gradually Bitcoin became a prevailing ransom payment technique. Nowadays, most of the cases involve Bitcoins and exclude any other options.
One may suppose the explanation is that the crypto currency offers extra anonymity to the parties of the transaction. They say the black hats opt for Bitcoins as that conceals their identity so that the risk of their detention is minimal if any. The assumption is wrong. In fact, vouchers and prepaid cards feature much higher level of non-disclosure: they can be easily exchanged both on a national and cross-border level without any references to the parties involved. In contrary, any transfers made in Bitcoins are likely to expose IP and even surname of the party who is to change the crypto currency into national currency. Such transfers are deemed vulnerable in the part of blockchain transactions, which can be effectively traced back and expose the whole fraud workflow, as well as individual actors behind it. Indeed, this vulnerability resulted in the detention and imprisonment of some unwary cyber criminals.
Why do the ransomware actors choose Bitcoins? The reasons are: the speed, some security of funds and traceability. Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public blockchain so that the crooks can easily and immediately see when the payment has been effected. Moreover, the blockchain enables the hackers to discharge the decryption key without human intervention. Once the victim has made the payment, each computer affected is marked with a unique ID and once the payment is done, the decryption key is sent out automatically.
The other critical thing about Bitcoins to the advantage of the hackers is that they simply do the job. The crooks are quite limited in using things available to fair actors. They cannot provide technical assistance, legal agreements, etc. If the solution they have selected does not properly operate, they prefer simply to retreat. Bitcoins just enable the transaction, and that’s it. In a way, the crooks make use of the advantages of cryptocurrency while the others are bound to use rather outdated methods.
As ransomware is raging, everybody is keen to get a quick fix that would do away with the cyber extortion once and for all. Haste makes waste so that the fast all-in-one solutions are rather traps that make computers even more vulnerable in future.
The ransomware is underpinned with three essential components. It is not really a matter of a victim. Be it your uncle Jack or a medical care institution or a big university, the workflow always includes the following steps:
1. The black hats compromise your machine obtaining a permit to overwrite and add new files in its memory.
2. They drop ransomware into a compromised device, which is to scramble the data with a key that cannot be cracked by reverse engineering and is deemed virtually flawless.
3. Bitcoin transfer is made to the hackers’ account.
The data encryption and crypto currency attract most of the attention. The words and notions seem to possess brand new sounds and meanings. Thereby, the very kernel of the problem tends to remain abandoned. We forget that the hackers had to infect your machine first.
It is an unbelievable and hardly forgettable situation when such critical facilities as hospitals allow semi-skilled criminals to gain reading and editing access to their data. The intruder is free to choose among the damages to do afterward. In fact, the job has been done. In the case of a hospital, the data of individuals on treatment is exposed to the hackers so they can abuse it in every possible way. That is not a proper way to serve customers.
Frankly, the ransomware attack cannot succeed, if the cyber security is maintained, as appropriate. The integrity of personal data shall be secured by every possible means, especially if the data has been entrusted by individuals to public institutions. Meanwhile, it is good to have better insight in the recent ransomware infection vectors such as social engineering fraud and phishing. Again, the issue has been around as long as there is a worldwide web. The simple precautions to observe remain unchanged: password-protect your accounts with a strong combination of both letters and cyphers, alter lower and the upper case at random, do not let anybody know it, verify attachments and any incoming data.
Last but not least, crypto technology was originally meant to harm. It has been contributing to cyber security and convenience essentially and quite a while. The fundamental lack of security maintenance for your PC makes it vulnerable to any and all varieties of malware and viruses. To be on a safe side, we need to enhance overall security performance of our computer system. It is not about the third parties using recent developments of cryptography.
The compulsory security measures shall include, but not be limited to:
- Https standard for any communications.
- Comprehending and implementing the best practice of authorization, in particular, the two-factor authorization.
- Managing passwords to ensure they are strong and unexposed.
- Considering the option of sticking to the payment methods that keep our personal data private.
The ransomware is not going to vanish, especially if we abandon the issue of hackers compromising our devices and blame it all on Bitcoins and crypto technology. If we assume such techniques are to be banned, the things are only to get worse. The fair actors will be unable to make use of technological breakthroughs while the black hats, hiding in the underground, are free to unleash the power of knowledge and modern tools for their hacking affairs.
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