Businesses without proper data protection can fall victim to malware.

Ransomware attacks warrant need for data backup

Stephen Perkins

Imagine one day logging into your computer only to discover that none of your files are available. Sure, they're encrypted – just not by you. Instead, a malicious third party has hacked into your system, and is holding your files for ransom. They are demanding money, and if you don't pay up you risk losing everything.

Unfortunately this kind of attack is a reality of computing for businesses that do not have suitable means of data protection in place. For people who do not take the proper measures to do data backup online, this kind of malware poses a significant threat.

Ransomware: an insidious threat
One example of this malware is called CryptoLocker. According to PCWorld contributor Eric Geier, the ransomware infects a computer first by encrypting its files, and then sending a notification to the victim demanding a $300 payment and threatening the loss of the files if the ransom is not paid. What this means is that many people, small business  owners included, end up paying the ransom. Not only do they waste money, but they put those funds directly into a criminal enterprise. And because the ransomware pirates usually demand payments in bitcoin​ or other untraceable currency, they are very hard to track down.

With ransomware, there is a spectrum of severity, Geier reported. At the low end of the spectrum are scareware​ threats, which are fake clean up tools that claim they have identified some problem with the computer and ask for a payment to fix it. While a nuisance, this malware tends to be the easiest to combat and generally does not infringe on computer functionality. But those infected with encrypting malware are not so lucky, since they are faced with a single screen reporting the encryption of their data and the threat to destroy it if a ransom is not paid. CryptoLocker informs infected users that their computer was encrypted through a public key that was uniquely generated. It then gives victims the option of finding out what that key is – for a $300 price tag.

Globally, CryptoLocker has claimed 25 million victims, mostly in the U.S., according to The News & Observer. For those without proper data backup, the consequences of this malware are terrifying: "immediate destruction of the private key by server." That is the reason people like Mark Wilson, president of a North Carolina insurance company, end up paying.

"The quickest, easiest way to handle this was to pay," Wilson said.

More ransomware expected for 2014
According to recent reports, the threat of ransomware shows no sign of slowing. And there may be an even greater enemy than CryptoLocker on the horizon. Ars Technica reported that a new piece of malware called PowerLocker is currently in circulation on underground hacker forums. What makes PowerLocker such a threat is that it is advertising itself as a DIY kit for aspiring hackers. Anyone who gets the code will be able to use it to infect others. And with the kit priced at a mere $100, experts fear PowerLocker will soon be in mass circulation. According to Ars Technica, PowerLocker is also equipped with more sophisticated defense measures to prevent it from being overridden. Once it is on a computer, it poses a huge threat. Even as PowerLocker grows in force, CryptoLocker is also reportedly advancing to the point where it can self-replicate and spread itself to other drives.

With a proliferation of digital currency like Bitcoin, it is getting easier for ransomware pirates to conduct business without risking getting caught. For this reason, it is important that all businesses take measures to ensure data protection, including looking into business online backup options.

Categories: Data Protection, Disaster Recovery, Online Backup