Intro to Ransomware Attacks

4 min read
Apr 10, 2023
Intro to Ransomware Attacks

What is a Ransomware Attack? 

Ransomware attacks have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, causing widespread disruption and financial losses for individuals and businesses. These attacks involve malware that encrypts a victim’s – or sometimes an entire organization’s data – and demands payment in exchange for the decryption key. 

In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of how ransomware attacks occur, some examples of high-profile attacks, the national security implications, and how passwordless solutions and biometric authentication can help prevent them.

How They Happen.

Ransomware attacks plant malicious software on a device or server, making an individual’s or company’s data inaccessible. These crippling attacks often render infrastructure useless until a ransom is paid, which is typically demanded in the form of cryptocurrency to make it difficult for authorities, the victim, or other good actors to trace the funds. The attacks occur through various means, including phishing emails, social engineering, and nearly any other method an attacker has at their disposal to breach a device, platform, or server.

Phishing emails are one of the most common ways ransomware attacks happen. An attacker will send an email that appears legitimate with the intention of tricking the victim into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment that contains the aforementioned malware. 

Social engineering attacks are another way cybercriminals can strike. With a social engineering attack, the malicious actor gains the trust of the victim by posing as a legitimate person or company and convincing them to give up sensitive information – namely, their passwords. 

Software vulnerabilities are also a common method hackers use to launch a ransomware attack. Attackers exploit weaknesses in programs to gain access to a victim’s or organization’s system and deploy the malicious code.

A Long History of Massive Ransomware Attacks. 

There have been several high-profile ransomware attacks in recent years. One of the most notorious was the WannaCry attack that occurred in May 2017, affecting over 300,000 computers in 150 countries and causing an estimated $4 billion in losses. The attack exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows and spread quickly through networks using a worm-like feature. The attackers demanded payment in Bitcoin, and victims were given seven days to pay before the ransom doubled. The infamous WannaCry flurry was eventually stopped by a security researcher who discovered a kill switch in the malware.

Another notable attack was the Colonial Pipeline attack in May 2021, which caused widespread fuel shortages on the East Coast of the United States. The attackers demanded a ransom of $4.4 million in cryptocurrency, which the company paid to regain access to its systems. The attack was carried out by a group known as DarkSide, which specialized in these types of attacks.

In Canada, the University of Calgary was hit by a ransomware attack in 2016. The university paid a ransom of $20,000 in Bitcoin to regain access to its data after being locked out by attackers.

It’s a Matter of National Security.

The examples above are jarring because of their implications and the fact that these attackers know no bounds and have no mercy. In fact, many of the attackers are hostile foreign actors based in countries such as North Korea, working at the behest of their governments.  

Ransomware attacks have national security implications because they can affect critical infrastructure such as power grids, transportation systems, education, and healthcare facilities. In 2020, the United States Department of Justice identified ransomware as a threat to national security and established the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force to investigate and disrupt these attacks.

The Canadian Government has also established an anti-ransomware task force to combat the increasing threat of ransomware attacks. The task force is composed of members from various government agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, Public Safety Canada, and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), among others.

Governments are not messing around when it comes to protecting against ransomware attacks, and neither should your organization. 

Multi-Pass to the Rescue!

Passwordless solutions and biometric authentication are becoming increasingly important in the fight against ransomware attacks. Kelvin Zero’s Multi-Pass product is a prime example of how these solutions can be leveraged to prevent your business from grinding to an operational halt.

Multi-Pass eliminates the need for passwords by using a combination of biometric authentication and a physical card, creating a safe and seamless experience for the end user and their organization.

By eliminating the need for passwords, Multi-Pass makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to gain access to systems and deploy ransomware. Passwords are often the weakest link in security, as they can be easily guessed, shared, or stolen, and cybercriminals use a variety of techniques to steal passwords that we covered above. 

In addition to providing stronger security, Multi-Pass also makes it easier for users to access their accounts. Traditional password-based authentication requires users to remember complex passwords, which can be dangerous, as we noted – but also difficult and frustrating. It’s a burgeoning use case for how passwordless solutions combined with biometric authentication can be used to prevent malicious actors from locking your data up and threatening to throw away the key forever. 

If you found this post helpful and want to learn more about Kelvin Zero’s Multi-Pass solution, watch our explainer video and schedule a demo with us!

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