July 12, 2016 By Larry Loeb 2 min read

University of Florida and Villanova University security researchers have published a paper titled “CryptoLock (and Drop It): Stopping Ransomware Attacks on User Data,” which focuses on a new way of stopping ransomware from completing its dastardly deeds. They also presented their findings at the IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems that took place on June 29, 2016, in Nara, Japan.

CryptoDrop Identifies Malicious Processes

Their solution is called CryptoDrop, and it acts as a detection system for encryption. Their project runs on Windows, which is a shift from similar initiatives such as Cryptostalker, which only ran on Linux.

Softpedia summarized the application by reporting that it “keeps an eye on the user’s file system for signs and operations specific to ransomware infections.” It will monitor for increases in encryption instances along with a few other red flags such as file type changes and a decrease in available entropy, the site noted.

Early Warning System

One of the researchers told Phys.org that the system is not intended to stop ransomware from the outset; rather, it recognizes when ransomware may be executing on a machine and it stops it from continuing. That way, a user may only lose a few documents as opposed to every file. It could also help them avoid paying a ransom for the stolen files.

The features and process seem reasonable: Watch for a spike in encryption operations and then shut it down. That will stop the ransomware from completing its efforts no matter how it breached the system. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to the technology.

Beware of False Positives

CryptoDrop can also cause false positives when any encryption happens for an extended period.

“CryptoDrop is unable to determine the intent of the changes it inspects,” the researchers explained in the paper. “For example, it cannot distinguish whether the user or ransomware is encrypting a set of documents.” Consequently, certain legitimate programs may trigger CryptoDrop alerts when used.

The researchers admitted that they would like to see the software move from the lab to the public. Whether it proves useful for the masses depends on the background encryption tasks that a user typically has — too many of them and you risk invoking the software. However, the average user or company employee who is not employing many of these programs could benefit greatly from a tool such as CryptoDrop.

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