Rapid escalation in the sophistication of CryptoLocker and other ransomware – particularly in Australia – will rapidly clear out a field of contenders as security tools vendors push hard to find new ways of protecting against the malicious software, a security executive of one endpoint security vendor has predicted.
Last year was a watershed moment for ransomware, Webroot product marketing manager George Anderson noted, with more malware variants appearing during 2013 than were seen in “the whole of 1984 to 2013 combined,” Anderson told CSO Australia.
Riding on the broader availability of exploit kits like the user-friendly Angler, some 260,000 new ransomware samples were detected in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone, up from 100,000 new samples in the third quarter and just 70,000 in the second quarter.
“I don't think people realise how bizarre a year it was,” Anderson said. “People started playing around with automation tools around 2010, and since then those exploit and automation tools have just gone mad. If you're a hacker, it's so easy now to do a 0-day and turn it into something that nobody has ever seen before.”
Ransomware has proved to be particularly problematic in Australia, of late, with numerous studies suggesting that Australians are more susceptible to the ransomware attacks than users in other countries.
Australia outranked all but one other country in terms of the number of systems infected with the TorrentLocker ransomware – more than 9000 – and the newer CryptoWall 3.0 ransomware had already proven to be twice as successful in Australia as elsewhere.
There are signs that Australia, with its relatively high concentration of wealthy individuals and a high penetration of social-media addicts, has grown in profile both as both a target of spearphishing-based ransomware attacks and as a proving ground for new ransomware attacks. One recent CryptoLocker attack vector, for example, was targeted at Australian users – claiming to be an electronic invoice for a company called Schoonover Plumbing – but was soon being distributed globally with a few slight modifications.
Webroot had previously seen great success in helping users avoid the effects of ransomware, with rollback technology capable of reverting files to their unencrypted state. This protection was part of a broader endpoint security capability that had, Anderson said, helped Webroot maintain something of a technological lead against ransomware infections even as the many new variants tried subtly different attacks each time.
“People typically have to rebuild their machines” after a ransomware attack, Anderson explained. “But we've built in a process whereby we try to stop things at the point of infection.”
“If we can't immediately recognise and categorise the thing as being malware, we turn on an internal monitoring process. If a file was encrypted, we were able to roll back to the non-encrypted versions.”
Success has had its downsides too, however: Webroot's ability to protect from ransomware “gave us a profile with the people trying to do the ransomware,” he said. “They've realised that this is standing in the way of them being able to get money out of people.”
This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.