The Dark Side of Encryption

I know it’s very tedious these days to use a Star Wars metaphor, but as everyone’s doing it so will I. Encryption techniques have been used for some time to secure communications and protect personal or intellectual property. When logging on to the Internet or using an e-Commerce website, the communication is secured by encryption, without the user even being aware. WinMagic’s data security solutions provide this sort of security through encryption and intelligent key management.

While encryption is more commonly used for defensive and preventative security methods, recently there have been more and more instances of encryption being used as a strong arm for ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents users from accessing their data and forces the victim to pay a fee in exchange for the releasing their data.

It appears the dark side of the force is slowly starting to take over encryption. Let’s explore how this is happening.

“Hard to See, the Dark Side Is…”

Cybercriminals are encrypting a user’s data, thereby preventing it from being accessed. Data will not be returned unless a payment is made – the similar strategy is recently being used in ransomware.

In most cases, there is not much to be done if data is stolen by a cybercriminal. Although paying the criminal will ultimately release the data back to its rightful owner, it is also motivating the attacker to create more efficient and malignant malware. Although many victims will take the bait and pay the fee, another option to consider is letting go of the data, wiping the hard drive completely or better yet, purchase a new hard drive and restore data from your backup!

Bye, Bye to Your Key

A variation to the newly conceptualized method of ransomware through encryption will find victims waiting in an unknowing “limbo” period. Essentially, cybercriminals will allow victims to still access the data after it’s been “stolen” so that they are diligent in the copying of all files. Victims will go a period of time where they are able to access their data, then all of sudden the cybercriminals will delete the stolen encryption key, ultimately preventing the victim from being able to ever access their files again.

As an end user, the backup you’re going to create right now will reside on an external drive that is not connected to the internet or connected to your computer at all times. You’ll only take it out when you need it.  And you will power it down after you’ve confirmed that the backup is working. After you backed up your files, you’ll ensure that you’re still able to access them using another device. This other device is, in the best case, a brand new machine which has never been connected to the Internet or to your home network.

As an organization you should be looking out for solutions that are able to detect advanced threats. You’re client, signature based antivirus scanner is not enough to protect yourself against such threats.

Interested in Learning More?
Here Are 6 Helpful Tips to Better Protect Your Data:

  1. Always install the latest security updates for your system.
  2. Use an anti-malware solution on all devices (use advanced threat detection systems)
  3. Don’t click “yes” within seconds when the user account control is asking you for your Administrative password. If you see the UAC coming up, think twice; ask yourself do you really want to initiate the UAC dialog? If you’re not 100% sure, click NO!
  4. Don’t be logged on with an administrator account! Create a regular user account.
  5. Breaches don’t just occur on endpoint devices like a computer. Be careful with applications you install on your smartphones/ tables as well.
  6. Use an Operating System that still gets delivered security updates. Windows 8 is no longer supported, so at the very least upgrade to Windows 8.1. (date: 02/16)

May the force be with you!

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