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Protect Organization Networks Against Ransomware Attacks

The following material is created to raise awareness of organization cybersecurity and provide adequate protection advice against ransomware threats.

Since ransomware has grown from a random idea to a million-dollar business and most of the attacks are conducted against organizations, we have decided to research into the field and bring several interesting ideas on how to adequately protect organizations and what systems are needed to perform this. During the research, we have stumbled into several very interesting presentations and network topologies which help us understand better how ransomware is distributed and how it targets organizations.

The Research

One interesting presentation which we stumbled upon during the research was the presentation regarding cybersecurity in healthcare at the Healthcare Compliance Institute

Now, one would ask, why to focus on healthcare cybersecurity. There is a very good reason for doing this, and it is because healthcare is the sector where more than 80% of attacks are conducted, primarily because of the funds poured into the sector and the ability to pay the ransom. And it is quite effective too; most healthcare institutions have paid ransom to retrieve important data back.

And given that the healthcare sector is changing and implementing more and more technology in it, and even more IoT gadgets, it is important for a network administrator to build an adequate network which will help him to respond adequately to the fast pace of today’s world.

The Threat

When we take a look at an average 21st-century ransomware it won’t take a lot of time to understand it. Most simplistic threats are usually purchased at the underground marketplace, and they even have license and support alongside them, meaning that it does not take explicit skills to master and use ransomware viruses. Basically, if we had to split the ransomware infection process into multiple different phases, as the researchers at the HCI have done, we would end up with four main areas of control:

  • The Infection and Distribution Process.
  • The Virus Itself and It’s Management.
  • The Encryption used.
  • The Ransom Payment.

Image Source: Healthcare Compliance Institute (Beckie Smith)

When we talk about infection and distribution, we have to realize that it is one of the most important areas in which most energy is thrown by the cybercriminals. This is primarily because ransomware is growing rapidly and the market for viruses has even become highly competitive, and everyone is battling over who has the best tools for the job. The most well-known tools for Infection are the ones who ensure successful infection to take place. These are the so-called cryptors, packers, scanners and other tools that ensure obfuscation. Cyber-criminal organizations put these tools as a priority to them, and they invest a lot in those tools, similar to how a company would invest in finding bugs in it’s software, for example. And while the infection is the key, it is also important to talk about spreading the malicious files that cause the infection. This is where cybercriminal organizations often turn to partners if they do not have the resources for this. These partners are usually black hat hackers with extensive experience in the field and a lot of resources. These resources are botnets, DDoS tools, and hardware, insanely huge databases of fake e-mail addresses, black SEO tools and many other tools that can make a simple .exe file famous in a matter of hours. And then, there is the issue of Hosting the distribution sites, also known as the C2 servers which are usually anonymized and tested before running the actual virus. These ghost hosts are with a very short lifespan, especially if they are distribution sites which contain the payload. So this about sums it up when it comes to distribution and infection.

When we discuss the virus files and their management, it all comes down to programmers. Such are usually people who were underappreciated or who have decided to make an extra buck by using their programming skillset. These developers create the source code for a ransomware infection and post the virus for sale, usually in the deep web. Some cybercriminal organizations, however, may have their developers who do the job, instead of risking to buy a code from others, who cannot be trusted. Whatever the case is, the virus should be programmed well and suitable to make a statement that it has infected the user. Furthermore, many cybercriminals value the ability to modify the virus itself – custom wallpaper, anti-VM tools, tools that change extensions, file names, custom ransom note, etc. Some ransomware viruses that are being sold online were even reported to offer hosting services for the command and control websites, where an administrator panel with every infected computer is viewed.

And when we talk about administrative panels and controlling the infection process, we have to discuss payment and payoff control. The cybercriminal organizations usually use anonymous e-mails or anonymous Tor-based web pages where the victim can communicate with them because customer support is very important. If organizations are attacked, it is important to known that the ransom amount is significantly larger.

The Attack

For an attack on a specific organization, for example, hospital to be conducted, the cybercriminals would first do some research about the organization they are about to hit. They will inspect the network and even infiltrate it partially to see what is it’s topology. Then they will contact the developers and affiliates to provide them the adequate obfuscators and tools for the specific software of the organization itself. For example, if the computers in the hospital are running updated versions of Windows 10 with advanced anti-malware protection, the attackers would choose obfuscation, which hides the virus from machine learning by injecting code into the legitimate rundll32.exe process, like the latest CERBER Ransomware string is doing.

Then, the attackers will begin the delivery process, and if some of the computers in the organizations have already been corrupted, they will use that and spread botnet or other intermediary malware. Another method is if they hack an e-mail of a user in the organization, for example, a senior manager and send a massive spam e-mail containing the infection file as an attachment. This technique is very effective, and some attackers have even been reported to use spoofed e-mails which were masked extremely well and cannot be differed from the original ones.

The next phase is to simply wait for the infection to happen and lay low while they are controlling the process and waiting for the payoff to be made. From there multiple “money mule” accounts are usually used in a sophisticated network of online cryptocurrency accounts which are then paid off to multiple affiliate wallets. Then, paid amounts are usually laundered through a BitCoin mixing service which completely hides the funds and then pays them off the authors of the virus.

How to Fight Back?

Experts with an extensive background in malware research outline that network administrators and security professionals should focus on these four key phases when they plan organization protection:

The Preparation Of The Defense And Budget Management

This phase includes handling the investments for cybersecurity and separating the activities that need to be conducted to achieve short term(hardware, software, etc) and long term(employee education) goals.

The Protection and Intrusion Detection

This is most likely what is the area of the highest importance, according to the researchers at the Institute. It includes building the right network with cybersecurity in mind. Basically, such networks should be focused on completely separating the employees from the guest users and even creating a third-group of devices as shown in the topology created by the researchers below:

Source: Healthcare Compliance Instute

As visible from above, NAC (Network Admission Control) has been used in combination with the NetFlow feature. The NAC is used primarily because it restricts multiple network resources based on a pre-configured network criteria and policies. If those policies fail to be met by a device, the NAC does not let it further into any of the other networks and leaves it in the Quarantine one with lowest permissions of all. The NetFlow feature is used to collect the traffic of those devices as it enters and exits the main device (ex. the switch). It also has the so-called application analysis which sees what data passes and does this data behave in an intrusive manner.

And besides those features, there may also be multiple other layers of protection added throughout the whole network, not only the quarantine one. The best practice is to add protection for each sub-network build around the main controller device and separate the networks as much as possible while keeping them interconnected but limited only to administrative accounts.

Threat Response

This is the area where the infection is already inevitable. Usually, organizations with adequate protection have protocols that are often changed regarding how they react when being attack and who do they contact. According to the researchers at HCI, these protocols may include several key processes:

  • Data Correlation.
  • A collection of logs from the devices.
  • Reporting of the intrusion and damages.
  • Having adequate knowledge base to search information in.
  • Having adequate threat database.
  • Research of the threat and development based on the scenario.

Usually, this is not something that your average network administrator is capable of knowing. However, if a team is used which consists of different specialists in different fields to investigate the situation, the time for handling the threat would rapidly decrease. But administrators have to be trained on how to perform the first response when there is a threat, and for this, protocols by security organizations are necessary to be implemented, which should be included in the preparation phase of investment.

Threat Recovery

This final aspect of the system includes an implementing and learning from the threat to not only recover like traditionally but in an improved and updated manner to avoid future intrusions of this type to happen. It involves analyzing the aggregated data from the threat and implementing the key aspects on how the threat infection was conducted. It can ensure the adequate configuration of the network the best way possible to minimize future risk.

The Bottom Line

As a conclusion, the focus on organization cybersecurity has cost a fortune the last couple of years. And most of the attacks done by ransomware were on systems which were not properly backed up and secured. This is the reason it is strongly recommended not only to look at it as an investment but oversee the whole processes from the inside out and research and test it extensively. Of course, this does not mean that you will create a 100% ransomware-proof system, but it will result in a security system that will repel most sophisticated threats out there.

And furthermore, as an IT sphere, cybersecurity is moving onto a whole new level of data management and device security – the Internet of Things. We have already seen many IoT devices that were hacked, and with IoT Botnets like Mirai, we believe that the focus of experts should be focused on handling mobile and IoT devices more often, then just centralizing security to big devices, like multilayer switches, routers, firewalls and others.

Ventsislav Krastev

Ventsislav is a cybersecurity expert at SensorsTechForum since 2015. He has been researching, covering, helping victims with the latest malware infections plus testing and reviewing software and the newest tech developments. Having graduated Marketing as well, Ventsislav also has passion for learning new shifts and innovations in cybersecurity that become game changers. After studying Value Chain Management, Network Administration and Computer Administration of System Applications, he found his true calling within the cybersecrurity industry and is a strong believer in the education of every user towards online safety and security.

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Attention! SensorsTechForum strongly recommends that all malware victims should look for assistance only by reputable sources. Many guides out there claim to offer free recovery and decryption for files encrypted by ransomware viruses. Be advised that some of them may only be after your money.

As a site that has been dedicated to providing free removal instructions for ransomware and malware since 2014, SensorsTechForum’s recommendation is to only pay attention to trustworthy sources.

How to recognize trustworthy sources:

  • Always check "About Us" web page.
  • Profile of the content creator.
  • Make sure that real people are behind the site and not fake names and profiles.
  • Verify Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter personal profiles.


OFFER

REMOVE IT NOW (PC)
with Anti-Malware
We recommend you to download SpyHunter and run free scan to remove all virus files on your PC. This saves you hours of time and effort compared to doing the removal yourself.
SpyHunter 5 free remover allows you, subject to a 48-hour waiting period, one remediation and removal for results found. Read EULA and Privacy Policy


Windows Mac OS X

How to Remove Ransomware from Windows.


Step 1: Boot Your PC In Safe Mode to isolate and remove Ransomware

OFFER

Manual Removal Usually Takes Time and You Risk Damaging Your Files If Not Careful!
We Recommend To Scan Your PC with SpyHunter

Keep in mind, that SpyHunter’s scanner is only for malware detection. If SpyHunter detects malware on your PC, you will need to purchase SpyHunter's malware removal tool to remove the malware threats. Read our SpyHunter 5 review. Click on the corresponding links to check SpyHunter's EULA, Privacy Policy and Threat Assessment Criteria

1. Hold Windows key() + R


2. The "Run" Window will appear. In it, type "msconfig" and click OK.


3. Go to the "Boot" tab. There select "Safe Boot" and then click "Apply" and "OK".
Tip: Make sure to reverse those changes by unticking Safe Boot after that, because your system will always boot in Safe Boot from now on.


4. When prompted, click on "Restart" to go into Safe Mode.


5. You can recognise Safe Mode by the words written on the corners of your screen.


Step 2: Uninstall Ransomware and related software from Windows

Here is a method in few easy steps that should be able to uninstall most programs. No matter if you are using Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista or XP, those steps will get the job done. Dragging the program or its folder to the recycle bin can be a very bad decision. If you do that, bits and pieces of the program are left behind, and that can lead to unstable work of your PC, errors with the file type associations and other unpleasant activities. The proper way to get a program off your computer is to Uninstall it. To do that:


1. Hold the Windows Logo Button and "R" on your keyboard. A Pop-up window will appear.


2. In the field type in "appwiz.cpl" and press ENTER.


3. This will open a window with all the programs installed on the PC. Select the program that you want to remove, and press "Uninstall"
Follow the instructions above and you will successfully uninstall most programs.


Step 3: Clean any registries, created by Ransomware on your computer.

The usually targeted registries of Windows machines are the following:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

You can access them by opening the Windows registry editor and deleting any values, created by Ransomware there. This can happen by following the steps underneath:

1. Open the Run Window again, type "regedit" and click OK.


2. When you open it, you can freely navigate to the Run and RunOnce keys, whose locations are shown above.


3. You can remove the value of the virus by right-clicking on it and removing it.
Tip: To find a virus-created value, you can right-click on it and click "Modify" to see which file it is set to run. If this is the virus file location, remove the value.

IMPORTANT!
Before starting "Step 4", please boot back into Normal mode, in case you are currently in Safe Mode.
This will enable you to install and use SpyHunter 5 successfully.

Step 4: Scan for Ransomware with SpyHunter Anti-Malware Tool

1. Click on the "Download" button to proceed to SpyHunter's download page.


It is recommended to run a scan before purchasing the full version of the software to make sure that the current version of the malware can be detected by SpyHunter. Click on the corresponding links to check SpyHunter's EULA, Privacy Policy and Threat Assessment Criteria.


2. After you have installed SpyHunter, wait for it to update automatically.

SpyHunter5-update-2018


3. After the update process has finished, click on the 'Malware/PC Scan' tab. A new window will appear. Click on 'Start Scan'.

SpyHunter5-Free-Scan-2018


4. After SpyHunter has finished scanning your PC for any files of the associated threat and found them, you can try to get them removed automatically and permanently by clicking on the 'Next' button.

SpyHunter-5-Free-Scan-Next-2018

If any threats have been removed, it is highly recommended to restart your PC.

Step 5 (Optional): Try to Restore Files Encrypted by Ransomware.

Ransomware infections and Ransomware aim to encrypt your files using an encryption algorithm which may be very difficult to decrypt. This is why we have suggested a data recovery method that may help you go around direct decryption and try to restore your files. Bear in mind that this method may not be 100% effective but may also help you a little or a lot in different situations.

1. Download the reccomended Data Recovery software by clicking on the link underneath:

Simply click on the link and on the website menus on top, choose Data Recovery - Data Recovery Wizard for Windows or Mac (depending on your OS), and then download and run the tool.


Windows Mac OS X

Get rid of Ransomware from Mac OS X.


Step 1: Uninstall Ransomware and remove related files and objects

OFFER
Manual Removal Usually Takes Time and You Risk Damaging Your Files If Not Careful!
We Recommend To Scan Your Mac with SpyHunter for Mac
Keep in mind, that SpyHunter for Mac needs to purchased to remove the malware threats. Click on the corresponding links to check SpyHunter’s EULA and Privacy Policy


1. Hit the ⇧+⌘+U keys to open Utilities. Another way is to click on “Go” and then click “Utilities”, like the image below shows:


2. Find Activity Monitor and double-click it:


3. In the Activity Monitor look for any suspicious processes, belonging or related to Ransomware:

Tip: To quit a process completely, choose the “Force Quit” option.


4. Click on the "Go" button again, but this time select Applications. Another way is with the ⇧+⌘+A buttons.


5. In the Applications menu, look for any suspicious app or an app with a name, similar or identical to Ransomware. If you find it, right-click on the app and select “Move to Trash”.


6: Select Accounts, after which click on the Login Items preference. Your Mac will then show you a list of items that start automatically when you log in. Look for any suspicious apps identical or similar to Ransomware. Check the app you want to stop from running automatically and then select on the Minus (“-“) icon to hide it.


7: Remove any left-over files that might be related to this threat manually by following the sub-steps below:

  • Go to Finder.
  • In the search bar type the name of the app that you want to remove.
  • Above the search bar change the two drop down menus to “System Files” and “Are Included” so that you can see all of the files associated with the application you want to remove. Bear in mind that some of the files may not be related to the app so be very careful which files you delete.
  • If all of the files are related, hold the ⌘+A buttons to select them and then drive them to “Trash”.

In case you cannot remove Ransomware via Step 1 above:

In case you cannot find the virus files and objects in your Applications or other places we have shown above, you can manually look for them in the Libraries of your Mac. But before doing this, please read the disclaimer below:

Disclaimer! If you are about to tamper with Library files on Mac, be sure to know the name of the virus file, because if you delete the wrong file, it may cause irreversible damage to your MacOS. Continue on your own responsibility!

1: Click on "Go" and Then "Go to Folder" as shown underneath:

2: Type in "/Library/LauchAgents/" and click Ok:

3: Delete all of the virus files that have similar or the same name as Ransomware. If you believe there is no such file, do not delete anything.

You can repeat the same procedure with the following other Library directories:

→ ~/Library/LaunchAgents
/Library/LaunchDaemons

Tip: ~ is there on purpose, because it leads to more LaunchAgents.


Click the button below below to download SpyHunter for Mac and scan for Ransomware:


Download

SpyHunter for Mac



Step 3 (Optional): Try to Restore Files Encrypted by Ransomware.

Ransomware infections and Ransomware aim to encrypt your files using an encryption algorithm which may be very difficult to decrypt. This is why we have suggested a data recovery method that may help you go around direct decryption and try to restore your files. Bear in mind that this method may not be 100% effective but may also help you a little or a lot in different situations.

1. Download the reccomended Data Recovery software by clicking on the link underneath:

Simply click on the link and on the website menus on top, choose Data Recovery - Data Recovery Wizard for Windows or Mac (depending on your OS), and then download and run the tool.


Ransomware FAQ

What is Ransomware ransomware and how does it work?

Ransomware is a ransomware infection - the malicious software that enters your computer silently and blocks either access to the computer itself or encrypt your files.

Many ransomware viruses use sophisticated encryption algorithm how to make your files inaccessible. The goal of ransomware infections is to demand that you pay a ransom payment to get access to your files back.

How does Ransomware ransomware infect my computer?

Via several ways.Ransomware Ransomware infects computers by being sent via phishing e-mails, containing virus attachment.

This attachment is usually masked as an important document, like an invoice, bank document or even a plane ticket and it looks very convincing to users.

After you download and execute this attachment, a drive-by download occurs and your computer is infected with the ransomware virus.

Another way, you may become a victim of Ransomware is if you download a fake installer, crack or patch from a low reputation website or if you click on a virus link. Many users report getting a ransomware infection by downloading torrents.

How to open .Ransomware files?

You can't. At this point the .Ransomware files are encrypted. You can only open them once they are decrypted.

Decryptor did not decrypt my data. What now?

Do not panic and backup the files. If a decryptor did not decrypt your .Ransomware files successfully, then do not despair, because this virus is still new.

One way to restore files, encrypted by Ransomware ransomware is to use a decryptor for it. But since it's a new virus, advised that the decryption keys for it may not be out yet and available to the public. We will update this article and keep you posted as soon as this decryptor is released.

How Do I restore ".Ransomware" files (Other Methods)?

Yes, sometimes files can be restored. We have suggested several file recovery methods that could work if you want to restore .Ransomware files.

These methods are in no way 100% guarantee that you will be able to get your files back. But if you have a backup, your chances of success are much greater.

How do I get rid of Ransomware ransomware virus?

The safest way and the most efficient one for the removal of this ransomware infection is the use a professional anti malware software. It will scan for and locate Ransomware ransomware and then remove it without causing any additional harm to your important .Ransomware files.

Also, keep in mind that viruses like Ransomware ransomware also install Trojans and keyloggers that can steal your passwords and accounts. Scanning your computer with an anti-malware software will make sure that all of these virus components are removed and your computer is protected in the future.

What to Do If nothing works?

There is still a lot you can do. If none of the above methods seem to work for you, then try these methods:

  • Try to find a safe computer from where you can can login on your own line accounts like One Drive, iDrive, Google Drive and so on.
  • Try to contact your friends, relatives and other people so that they can check if they have some of your important photos or documents just in case you sent them.
  • Also, check if some of the files that were encrypted it can be re-downloaded from the web.
  • Another clever way to get back some of your files is to find another old computer, a flash drive or even a CD or a DVD where you may have saved your older documents. You might be surprised what will turn up.
  • You can also go to your email account to check if you can send any attachments to other people. Usually what is sent the email is saved on your account and you can re-download it. But most importantly, make sure that this is done from a safe computer and make sure to remove the virus first.

More tips you can find on our forums, where you can also asks any questions about your ransomware problem.

How to Report Ransomware to Authorities?

In case your computer got infected with a ransomware infection, you can report it to the local Police departments. It can help authorities worldwide track and determine the perpetrators behind the virus that has infected your computer. Below, we have prepared a list with government websites, where you can file a report in case you are a victim of a cybercrime:

Cyber-security authorities, responsible for handling ransomware attack reports in different regions all over the world:

Reports may be responded to in different timeframes, depending on your local authorities.

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