You’ve heard of it, but what is a blackmail program? How does it work ? Do they really steal your information and how do you get rid of it? In France, we sometimes use the term ransomware.
There are many cyber security threats on the Internet, but the dreaded blackmail program is one of the most productive. This threat is as scary as it looks, which is why it’s good to know more about this threat, what it does and what to do when it hits you.
Let’s see what blackmail programs are and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is a blackmail program?
The term blackmail program covers any virus or malware that takes your computer hostage. Blackmail programs can use a variety of attack methods, but a common connection with all types of blackmail programs is that it prevents you from accessing part or all of your computer.
How does the tightening program work?
To study how blackmail programs work, we must first become familiar with the different types of blackmail programs, what each one does, and what they are trying to accomplish.
Ransomware is based on data encryption
This is the most common version of ransomware. It blocks access to files on your computer, and some even prevent the operating system from starting. The blackmail program then asks the user to pay a ransom (hence the name ransomware) to restore the files.
To prevent the user from circumventing the blackmail program, the virus collects all the files in a folder and then locks them with strong encryption. Thus, the files are not deleted forever, but the user cannot access them without the proper decryption key.
Once the user has paid, the malware developer will provide him with a key to unlock the computer. The developer can add an incentive by adding a timer to the tightening program. When the timer reaches zero, all files are deleted.
Scareware disguises itself as a legitimate organization
Sometimes blackmail programs don’t really tell you what it is. Sometimes it disguises itself as a legitimate organization hoping to get the user to act.
Take, for example, the Reveton virus reported by the FBI. This virus is a blackmail program that locks the computer but claims to be from the FBI itself.
The virus claims that the victim was caught downloading illegal files and his computer was seized to prevent illegal activity. To continue using the computer, the victim must transfer money “to pay fines,” but don’t go for the wire: the money goes straight into the scammer’s pockets.
Ransomware can also be in the form of official technology companies. Forbes reports a malware strain that did not lock the entire computer but froze the web browser.
The malware claimed to be from Microsoft and locked the browser to prevent damage from the infected virus. The malware asks the user to call an “emergency phone” to repair the computer, leading to high call charges.
These malware are commonly referred to as “scarware” because their purpose is to make you make hasty decisions without logical reasoning. Fake virus and malware alerts fit this category well because they scare you and trick you into doing something that does more harm than good.
Ransomware’s cousin, leak program
Another strain of ransomware, called “leakware,” is emerging. Ransomware and leakware are similar in the sense that they both lock user files and ask them to pay a ransom for unlocking.
What sets them apart is what happens when the user doesn’t pay. The classic tightening program can threaten to delete your files, but the leakage program does the opposite. If you don’t pay, the leaks will get your files back to you … by posting them on public forums.
This tactic is especially effective against all kinds of victims. Victims may not want their friends and family to know about the questionable or illegal things they have used their computers for, and companies may not want their confidential information to end up on the Dark Web.
Where do ransomware attack?
Redemption programs are not by nature targeted at a specific person or computer when they lock the computer. As long as a person accidentally executes an infected file and uses an unprotected operating system, an attack is possible.
However, malware developers have recently chosen their target. At the height of blackmail attacks, malware developers released ransomware on the Internet on a massive scale. The idea was to put quantity first over quality by infecting as many people as possible to increase the profit generated by ransom.
However, two events forced ransomware developers to change their minds. Both stages of development began after the ransomware attack method became infamous and security companies began to respond to the growing threat.
Prepare for attacks by blackmail programs
The first development was the rise of ransomware sites. Services such as No more ransoms specifically targeting blackmail programs by publishing programs and keys that can unlock a locked computer.
Therefore, the ransomware stock should keep a low profile and avoid detection as much as possible. The more people who are attacked by a stump, the more likely it is that an alarm will be made and the sooner a solution will be found.
Therefore, a ransomware developer should make sure that his program hits as many victims as possible who are willing to pay before it is detected. For example, Aunt Danielle, who uses a computer to watch cat memes, doesn’t pay, and probably won’t be able to pay a ransom. In contrast, a wealthy person with sensitive documents on their computer is much more likely to pay.
Another trend has been increased public awareness of blackmail programs. When blackmail programs became a hot topic in cybersecurity, people were encouraged to back up their computers. After all, what’s the point of ransoming if someone has a backup?
In addition, operating systems have begun to provide ransomware tools to their users. For example, you can protect yourself from blackmail by using Windows Defender at no extra cost because this tool is built into Windows.
Change of focus for blackmail developers
As a result, malware developers began to design and deploy blackmail programs with two goals in mind. The blackmail program had to hit a large company or organization that could afford to pay a ransom, and it had to hit a place where just locking the computer was devastating even though the victim had a backup of their data.
These sectors suffer the most from attacks because they are very vulnerable to downtime when the computer is down. In these areas, locking files is only a small part of a blackmail attack. It’s an unusable computer that can cost companies millions because they are forced to shut down to fix the problem.
Of course, a panicked entrepreneur who loses dollars every second wants to liberalize his system as soon as possible. Unfortunately, if technical support can’t find a way to release the computer, the company will have to pay and hope that the ransomware developer will fulfill its contract.
The cost of blackmail programs is huge. According to Emsisoft, in 2020, an estimated $ 25 billion was spent on ransomware requests, and nearly $ 170 billion was lost by combining blackmail fees and downtime costs.
How to protect against blackmail programs?
The best form of antivirus protection is to prevent the virus from entering your computer. If the idea of blackmail malware makes you chills, there are ways to protect yourself.
Keep up-to-date backups of your computer data
A good backup prevents all non-leaking blackmail attacks. Why pay a ransom when you can clear everything and reinstall it?
But before you unplug the USB drive, why not try backing up your Windows computer to the cloud? There are many services that automatically back up your entire computer for a monthly subscription, which is an ideal Plan B if your computer is affected by a blackmail program.
Be aware of ransom programs
Now that your data has been backed up, it’s time to prevent blackmail programs from infecting your computer.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single trick to protect yourself from blackmail programs, but you should be fine if you follow a few basic rules.
How do I remove blackmail programs?
If you are a victim of malware, it is important not to panic. The developer of blackmail programs is playing with fear to make you pay.
Don’t pay a ransom!
As you read this article, you may be wondering what prevents a ransomware developer from taking a paid ransom and leaving before unlocking your computer. The answer is: nothing prevents them.
If you pay a ransom, at your best, you show the developer that the ransomware is working, which encourages them to develop and distribute more malware. In the worst case, the developer won’t bother to come back to you with the key to unlock your computer.
Find an existing solution
Remember the website we mentioned earlier, Project No More Ransom? There are many other such sites that you can visit to find a solution to your problem. If someone has found a key or developed a program that can unlock your computer, they should be listed on one of these sites.
Here’s a list of tools to get you started:
The tools above are free, so give them a try and see if they can fix your computer.
Say no to ransomware
Ransomware is malware, but you are not helpless against it. Now you know how blackmail programs work, how to protect yourself from it, and what to do if you fall victim to it.