The FBI is setting the record straight on ransomware, warning users they shouldn’t believe sudden pop-ups on their screen that demand a fine be paid for breaking the law, even if it allegedly comes from the FBI.
In an article on its blog, the FBI said ransomware is increasing even as cybercriminals change tactics. Traditionally, malware distributed via spam email was an easy way for attackers to take over a computer system in return for payment. However, a more popular “drive-by” approach that embeds malicious code into a website or pop-up window is now being used. The intended victims are also expanding beyond consumers to businesses and from desktops to mobile phones, the FBI added.
The FBI isn’t the only group noting a rise in ransomware. Security firm Lookout’s recently released Mobile Threat Report shows distinct trends in not only the types of malware typically aimed at smartphones — such as ScarePakage and ScareMeNot — but the countries targeted, which include the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. Those forced to pay were typically meeting demands of between $300 and $500, the report added.
A story on Dark Reading suggested ransomware on mobile devices may be a sign that those creating it are becoming more sophisticated and mature in their methods, in much the same way computer viruses shifted from desktops to other form factors. What is consistent with nearly all forms of hacking attempts is the social engineering aspect, where those doing the blackmailing pretend to be the FBI or other law enforcement officials.
What may make matters worse, at least for some consumers, is that paying cybercriminals may also require them to become more familiar with the latest in cryptocurrencies. The FBI report said bitcoin is becoming a popular way to collect money from victims. This was backed up by recent reports in SC Magazine of a new variant on Curve-Tor-Bitcoin Locker, which is being used by cybercriminals to charge computer users the equivalent of nearly $1,800 to set their device free.
As a piece in The Economist explained, bitcoin is a natural fit for cybercriminals because it is far more anonymous than demanding payments through debit systems or bank accounts, which can be more easily tracked. Meanwhile, the code involved seems to undergo a nearly constant metamorphosis, requiring even experienced security researchers to work overtime to keep up.
Hopefully, consumers will pay attention to the FBI’s warning and corporations will spread the news to their employees. Education on this topic cannot happen fast enough. At the very least, it needs to spread more quickly than most types of ransomware.