Ransomware is the world’s fastest growing form of malware. The malicious software works by encrypting a victim’s files and requesting a ransom fee for their release.
But a team of researchers at the University of Florida have discovered an ingenious way of thwarting attackers, potentially saving victims’ hundreds of pounds.
While most antivirus software prevents ransomware from getting started, their system prevents it from completing its task. Most antivirus applications can only stop recognised ransomware malware. The new software, however, can spot when something benign starts acting maliciously.
Nolen Scaife, a UF doctoral student and founding member of UF’s Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research, explained: “These attacks are tailored and unique every time they get installed on someone’s system.”
“Antivirus is really good at stopping things it’s seen before … That’s where our solution is better than traditional antiviruses. If something that’s benign starts to behave maliciously, then what we can do is take action against that based on what we see is happening to your data.”
Scaife adds: “Our system ... doesn’t prevent the ransomware from starting ... it prevents the ransomware from completing its task … so you lose only a couple of pictures or a couple of documents rather than everything that’s on your hard drive, and it relieves you of the burden of having to pay the ransom.”
The team have built a working prototype of the software called CryptoDrop. They are now seeking a partner to help commercialise the product and bring it to market.
The cost to victims of malware was as much as $200m (£154m) in the first three months of 2016, according to NBC. Earlier this year a hospital in Los Angeles paid a $17,000 ransom in bitcoin after its computer systems were locked down by hackers. Paying up was considered the quickest and most efficient way of regaining control.
Ransomware is often delivered to victims’ in the form of familiar-looking spam emails. Get Safe Online recommends avoiding opening links or replying to unsolicited or spam emails from companies or people you don’t recognise, you back up data regularly, only visit reputable websites and update antivirus software before going online.
So how does ransomware work?
Typically the software is hidden inside an email. When the email is opened the virus is installed onto the computer. It will then either search for important personal information or simply lockdown the entire computer.
Once installed, the software then demands that the user pays a ransom and in return the victim regains control of their computer.
While it’s most typically found on computers and laptops there are increasing reports of ransomware being found on smartphones.
One such piece of software uses the front-facing camera on the phone to take a picture of the victim, it then locks the phone claiming that the person was viewing child pornography.
The contents of the smartphone is then completely locked unless a fee of $500 is paid.
How to protect against ransomware?
As Newsy’s video above explains, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself.
The most obvious is keeping a close eye on your incoming emails. While spam filters can do a lot of the groundwork it still takes vigilance to make sure that you don’t accidentally open a particularly well-hidden spam email.
Secondly there are now a host of programs and apps which can protect both your phone and computer from these emails.
Apps like Focus by Firefox can help protect against unwanted pop-ups on your smartphone while also speeding up your browser.
Focus isn’t just an ad-blocker though, it’s also capable of preventing potentially harmful pop-ups from appearing and then subsequently asking f