A recent hack of a U.K. website is highlighting the need for the average user to take caution when surfing the Web. The Independent, a prominent news source, has become the victim of a sophisticated hack. Although The Independent's blog was the only area to be compromised, the involved cyber criminals are still doing some damage to the site's reputation.
Namely, the blog has become the unwilling accomplice to a ransomware scheme. Even though this hacking shows the need for sites to up their cyber security abilities, the main point of focus here is that people using the Internet need to tread lightly in this new age of sophisticated cyber crime.
This whole incident started with a cyber attack aimed at The Independent's WordPress-hosted blog site. The rest of the website seems to be fine, however, hackers targeted WordPress and its vulnerabilities in order to gain control over the blog. Then, the cyber criminals started bringing people to sites hosting the Angler Exploit Kit.
Basically, this kit worked to utilize Adobe Flash Player to infiltrate the systems of users unlucky enough to fall for this scheme. Anyone who went to one of these sites hosting the kit, who also didn't have an updated version of Adobe Flash Player, became the victim of Cryptesla 2.2.0 ransomware.
A separate infection chain involving Angler in this case worked in a similar way, but first downloaded the BEDEP malware. After that was done, BEDEP downloaded another ransomware, CryptoLocker. Once this ransomware was in control, it asked the user for $499 to remove itself and allow them access to their computer.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a specific kind of malware that came onto the cyber security scene around 2005, according to Trend Micro research. It mainly finds its way onto people's computer through bad Internet habits. A user will click on a link that they don't recognize and the malware will instantly begin to download onto the person's computer.
Once it's in, ransomware locks the user out of accessing the computer. Many times, the malware will also display a message that the person has broken some sort of law and must pay a fine. Whether the ransomware is pretending to be from law enforcement or not, it will demand that the user pay a certain amount of money to unlock the computer.
More sophisticated ransomware has begun to encrypt the actual files on the computer, rather than simply locking the user out of using the machine. Regardless of the specifics, this malware counts on the fear of the victim to receive a payday.
Although this may seem like the easy way out, paying the attacker is quite literally never the answer in a ransomware scenario. Not only does this encourage the nefarious behavior, but it also sets up the victim for future attacks as the hacker knows this person will pay up. After becoming the victim of one of these malicious attacks, the only thing a person should do is contact either the police or a cyber security professional.
What can the average user do?
While there aren't a whole lot of options for a person after they've become the victim of ransomware, there are quite a lot of ways to avoid this scenario in the first place. First, every person with even somewhat important files on their computer needs to have a solid and consistent backup routine.
Backing up important data regularly is great for a multitude of reasons, but it works well as a defense for ransomware because it decreases the value of the information contained on the infected computer. Having a computer become useless at the hands of cyber criminals is obviously frustrating, but a lot of the sting can be taken out of these kinds of attacks if the information on that machine can be found elsewhere.
Another great way to avoid ransomware, and malware in general, is to double and triple check emails that contain links. Oftentimes, people become complacent with emails from friends and family, simply clicking things without really thinking about them. When receiving an email from a person that doesn't usually use links in their messages, make sure to look over the URL before clicking. If things still seem fishy and you know the sender in real life, try to contact them outside of email to see if the message was really theirs. However, never attempt to contact the sender of a message if you don't know them.
Finally, and most importantly, those wishing to avoid ransomware absolutely need top-notch cyber security software on their computer. Assessing links manually certainly helps, but the average person simply can't sniff out viruses and malicious links like a solid cyber security system can.
This is where the Trend Micro Maximum Security 10 software comes in. By blocking websites known to be dangerous, this package can help users avoid a ransomware scenario.