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Coronavirus has caused a major shift to our working patterns. In many cases these will long outlast the pandemic. But working from home has its own risks. One is that you may invite ransomware attacks from a new breed of cyber-criminal who has previously confined his efforts to directly targeting the corporate network. Why? Because as a remote worker, you’re increasingly viewed as a soft target—the open doorway to extorting money from your employer.

So how does ransomware land up on your front doorstep? And what can a home worker do to shut that door?

The new ransomware trends

Last year, Trend Micro detected over 61 million ransomware-related threats, a 10% increase from 2018 figures. But things have only gotten worse from there. There has been a 20% spike in ransomware detections globally in the first half of 2020, rising to 109% in the US. And why is that?

At a basic level, ransomware searches for and encrypts most of the files on a targeted computer, so as to make them unusable. Victims are then asked to pay a ransom within a set time frame in order to receive the decryption key they need to unlock their data. If they don’t, and they haven’t backed-up this data, it could be lost forever.

The trend of late, however, has been to focus on public and private sector organizations whose staff are working from home (WFH). The rationale is that remote workers are less likely to be able to defend themselves from ransomware attacks, while they also provide a useful stepping-stone into high-value corporate networks. Moreover, cybercriminals are increasingly looking to steal sensitive data before they encrypt it, even as they’re more likely to fetch a higher ransom for their efforts than they do from a typical consumer, especially if the remote employee’s data is covered by cyber-insurance.

Home workers are also being more targeted for a number of reasons:

  • They may be more distracted than those in the office.
  • Home network and endpoint security may not be up to company levels.
  • Home systems (routers, smart home devices, PCs, etc.,) may not be up-to-date and therefore are more easily exposed to exploits.
  • Remote workers are more likely to visit insecure sites, download risky apps, or share machines/networks with those who do.
  • Corporate IT security teams may be overwhelmed with other tasks and unable to provide prompt support to a remote worker.
  • Security awareness programs may have been lacking in the past, perpetuating bad practice for workers at home.

What’s the attack profile of the remote working threat?

In short, the bad guys are now looking to gain entry to the corporate network you may be accessing from home via a VPN, or to the cloud-hosted systems you use for work or sharing files, in order to first steal and then encrypt company data with ransomware as far and wide as possible into your organization. But the methods are familiar. They’ll

  • Try to trick you into dangerous behavior through email phishing—the usual strategy of getting you to click links that redirect you to bad websites that house malware, or getting you to download a bad file, to start the infection process.
  • Steal or guess your log-ins to work email accounts, remote desktop tools (i.e., Microsoft Remote Desktop or RDP), and cloud-based storage/networks, etc., before they deliver the full ransomware payload. This may happen via a phishing email spoofed to appear as if sent from a legitimate source, or they may scan for your use of specific tools and then try to guess the password (known as brute forcing). One new Mac ransomware, called EvilQuest, has a keylogger built into it, which could capture your company passwords as you type them in. It’s a one-two punch: steal the data first, then encrypt it.
  • Target malware at your VPN or remote desktop software, if it’s vulnerable. Phishing is again a popular way to do this, or they may hide it in software on torrent sites or in app stores. This gives them a foothold into your employer’s systems and network.
  • Target smart home devices/routers via vulnerabilities or their easy-to-guess/crack passwords, in order to use home networks as a stepping-stone into your corporate network.

How can I prevent ransomware when working from home?

The good news is that you, the remote worker, can take some relatively straightforward steps up front to help mitigate the cascading risks to your company posed by the new ransomware. Try the following:

  • Be cautious of phishing emails. Take advantage of company training and awareness courses if offered.
  • Keep your home router firmware, PCs, Macs, mobile devices, software, browsers and operating systems up to date on the latest versions – including remote access tools and VPNs (your IT department may do some of this remotely).
  • Ensure your home network, PCs, and mobile devices are protected with up-to-date with network and endpoint AV from a reputable vendor. (The solutions should include anti-intrusion, anti-web threat, anti-spam, anti-phishing, and of course, anti-ransomware features.)
  • Ensure remote access tools and user accounts are protected with multi-factor authentication (MFA) if used and disable remote access to your home router.
  • Disable Microsoft macros where possible. They’re a typical attack vector.
  • Back-up important files regularly, according to 3-2-1 rule.

How Trend Micro can help

In short, to close the cyber front door to ransomware, you need to protect your home network and all your endpoints (laptops, PCs, mobile devices) to be safe. Trend Micro can help via

  • The Home Network: Home Network Security (HNS) connects to your router to protect any devices connected to the home network — including IoT gadgets, smartphones and laptops — from ransomware and other threats.
  • Desktop endpoints: Trend Micro Security (TMS) offers advanced protection from ransomware-related threats. It includes Folder Shield to safeguard valuable files from ransomware encryption, which may be stored locally or synched to cloud services like Dropbox®, Google Drive® and Microsoft® OneDrive/OneDrive for Business.
  • Mobile endpoints: Trend Micro Mobile Security (also included in TMS) protects Android and iOS devices from ransomware.
  • Secure passwords: Trend Micro Password Manager enables users to securely store and recall strong, unique passwords for all their apps, websites and online accounts, across multiple devices.
  • VPN Protection at home and on-the-go: Trend Micro’s VPN Proxy One (Mac | iOS) solution will help ensure your data privacy on Apple devices when working from home, while its cross-platform WiFi Protection solution will do the same across PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices when working from home or when connecting to public/unsecured WiFi hotspots, as you venture out and about as the coronavirus lockdown eases in your area.

With these tools, you, the remote worker, can help shut the front door to ransomware, protecting your work, devices, and company from data theft and encryption for ransom.

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