Blockchain-based data verification promises better defence against ransomware surge

Cloud-based file notarisation services promise to push Blockchain verification into the mainstream

Early adopters are exploring the possible governance benefits of a new file-verification service based on Blockchain technology, but the head of Acronis’ R&D efforts believes the technique will rapidly push into the mainstream as the distributed-ledger technology is refined and integrated into a range of security and data backup products.

Leveraging the work of the publicly-available ‘smart contracts’ platform of the Ethereum Foundation, the enterprise-backup bellwether has doubled down on Blockchain with an Acronis Notary prototype that allows the content of files to be checked and registered into the Blockchain in real time. Once an entry has been created, it can never be changed – providing an invaluable capability during forensic accounting, procedural governance and other activities.

Eugene Aseev, vice president of engineering and head of the Acronis R&D Centre, told CSO Australia that the maturation of the Etherium Blockchain “was a key point in our decision-making” that convinced Acronis that the time was right to move the high-profile technology, which forms the basis of the Bitcoin virtual currency.

“Public Blockchain is the only way to make this transparent to customers,” he explained, “and once Etherium appeared it provided much broader capabilities in terms of leveraging the network. Any customer can go to the Etherium network directly, without communication to Acronis, and prove that a file was notarised.”

Value-added services within the Etherium space

Offering widespread notarisation capabilities through a freely-available cloud service offer significant new opportunities for confirming the integrity of data backups and will complement ransomware defences built into Acronis’ True Image portfolio

Because records of verified files can’t be changed once they are entered into the Blockchain, the technology is being particularly positioned as a remedy for ransomware attacks. By using the Blockchain to confirm and register the natural state of files and operating system components – and then monitoring for any changes – such a tool offers immediate detection of ransomware activity and enables quick identification of any files that have or are being changed by the code.

Strong support for the idea of a robust file-verification service will direct Acronis’ development efforts throughout the year as support for Etherium – and other Blockchains, both private and public, should customers prefer – is built into the rest of the company’s data-protection portfolio.

Better protection from ransomware has become a rallying cry for security and data-protection firms like Datto, SentinelOne, Cybereason, which are promoting new technologies, encouraging better administration practices and backup discipline, and developing new architectures to give businesses better recovery alternatives to paying the ransom.

Opportunities to apply Blockchain to the ransomware problem open a new frontier in efforts to ransomware-proof businesses, who face an ongoing and intensifying threat as ransomware authors experiment with new techniques and infiltration technologies.

Malwarebytes’ latest State of Malware Report, for one, noted a 267 percent increase in ransomware during 2016, with more than 400 variants observed in total. The authors of ransomware – in particular, the TeslaCrypt, Locky, and Cerber strains that were the most commonly detected – launched what analysts called “an unprecedented domination of the threat landscape” that saw the proportion of ransomware-laden email attachments explode from 18 percent of all payloads in January 2016 to 66 percent of payloads in November 2016.

Australia was the sixth most-attacked ransomware target in the world, according to Malwarebytes, and businesses were far more frequently targeted than home users – a reflection, the firm’s analysts proposed, because of the realisation that businesses have “the most to lose and the resources to pay”.

Most executives continue to do so, according to recent IBM research that found 70 percent of executives reported having paid a ransomware ransom. Yet as new technologies continue to emerge, it’s the hope of Aseev and others in the space that non-repudiable file registration services will become a powerful tool in the fight.

“There are still a lot of issues to solve,” he said, adding that Acronis for one has a “fascinating” product roadmap. “But the beauty of Blockchain is that everything is immutable and that you can’t revert operations back. Somewhere in the future we will have as table platform with many tools that can help sort out these problems.”