What Is Crypto Ransomware?

August 9, 2021 in Malware

From banks to internet providers, countless businesses use encryption tools to hide sensitive information from prying eyes. However, encryption tools can be used for less noble means. Enter: crypto ransomware.

What is crypto ransomware? Why is it dangerous? And, most importantly, what can you do to protect yourself from the 4,000 crypto ransomware attacks that occur every single day? Let’s take a look.

What is crypto ransomware?

Hackers weaponize encryption by designing crypto ransomware: harmful programs that render files inaccessible and let cybercriminals extort money from hapless victims. In essence, this is a digital hostage scheme. To restore files for regular use, you need a decryption key—which is the hacker’s source of leverage.

Hackers often demand their payment in cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. To pressure victims into complying, they might limit the time window for wiring the desired sum or increase the ransom as time elapses.

Sometimes, these schemes don’t involve actual encryption at all—hackers may just use the threat of encryption to ask for money. Most often, however, malicious activity has already occurred by the time a user discovers that their private information is compromised.

Crypto ransomware attacks

“Your computer has been infected with a virus. Click here to resolve the issue.”

This is just one of many common phrases used in crypto ransomware attacks, designed to inspire panic and fear in the victim.

Crypto ransomware attacks are typically carried out via phishing emails. These messages use professional designs and crafty rhetoric to lure recipients into opening attached files such as Microsoft Word documents or Excel sheets. While the attachments appear to be official, they’re actually covert vehicles for ransomware.

Drive-by downloading is yet another common method of attack. This occurs when users visit a decoy website, and the crypto ransomware is secretly installed. These websites may be mistakenly opened from a phishing email, links on social media, or even internet search results.

In recent years, these nefarious attacks have become incredibly common and disruptive. In some cases, crypto ransomware infiltrates a company’s entire network, halting business activity until the infected devices are repaired.

Crypto ransomware prevention

At the end of the day, the key to crypto ransomware prevention is being proactive. Here are five practical steps for defending against bad actors:

  1. Invest in strong, effective security measures—such as malware scanners, antivirus software, and web application firewalls—to evade a hacker’s tricks.
  2. Back up important files using both cloud-based services and external hard drives. Also, make sure that these backups are disconnected from your computer. Crypto ransomware will encrypt your backups if it can.
  3. Avoid downloading files from suspicious sources, such as emails from unknown senders.
  4. Regularly update all the software on your computer. (Operating systems and commonly used applications such as Java, Chrome, and Microsoft Office have automatic update features to help with this.)
  5. Educate yourself on best cybersecurity practices.

Finally, if you do fall prey to crypto ransomware, do not comply with a hacker’s demands. By giving in to their demands, you are encouraging them to continue this activity. Plus, in some cases, you might run afoul of laws or regulations about sending money to them because of where the bad actors are located.

Stay protected with SiteLock

Now that you know what crypto ransomware is, want to learn more about defending against cybercriminals? Read “What Is Ransomware?” to discover how hackers hold sites hostage—and which four steps can help ensure yours isn’t one.

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