‘Your personal files are encrypted,’ says the message on the screen. ‘You have a few hours to submit the payment or your files will not be recovered.’
This is the stuff of nightmares. This is evidence that you’re a victim of ransomware. This message has been seen on screens of computers that have been breached specifically by the new ransomware going by the name of MarsJoke.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that cybercriminals use to block access to computer systems. The cybercriminals encrypt the data or files on the computer they have breached in order to prevent the file owners from accessing them. The cybercriminal demands a payment (ransom) in exchange for the safe return of your files and data. This is similar to a hostage situation.
When your computer comes under the attack of ransomware, you won’t be able to access any program or files on it. Your monitor will display a message from the cybercriminal detailing their demands. Payments are usually demanded in the form of Bitcoins and payments are made to foreign addresses. This makes it difficult to trace these criminals. Once payment is received the files are decrypted.
MarsJoke is a ransomware that was first identified by Proofpoint researchers. The ransomware was named MarsJoke because of a string that was noticed in its code i.e. ItsJokeFromMars.
MarsJoke was once thought to be targeting individuals. However, Proofpoint researchers have found that the ransomware recently launched a large-scale campaign that is now targeting local government and state agencies as well as educational institutions just as its predecessor CTB-Locker.
The ransomware gains access to these computers through email. The subject lines of the emails vary from emails referencing major national carriers to those tracking packages.
Why you should care
As a private business owner, you may be thinking that you’re safe and have nothing to worry about as far as MarsJoke is concerned. Nothing could be further from the truth.
- Cybercrime is a growing threat
Cybercrime is growing rapidly as different forms of malware continue to be developed and spread. Ransomware in particular has grown a great deal. According to McAfee Labs, ransomware rose 165 percent in the first quarter of 2015.
MarsJoke’s recent email campaign may be targeting government agencies and educational institutions but it may affect privately owned companies and small businesses in particular. New variants and strains of malware are released often.
- You’re at high risk
Small businesses are vulnerable to attacks by ransomware. These businesses often have sensitive personal and financial information and lack effective cybersecurity. Cybercriminals know this and therefore target small businesses.
- It is tough to recover
Ransomware is scary because you are not guaranteed of retrieving your files in good condition following the encryption. It’s wise to invest in cyber risk insurance coverage to ensure that your liability and expenses are covered as your business struggles to recover from the effects of ransomware, and in the case the files are not recovered.
- It isn’t a joke
Cybercriminals aren’t joking when they say that your files will be destroyed if you don’t meet their demands. They often have nothing to lose. In addition to this, ransomware is effective. Hackers know just how hard it is to retrieve files once they are encrypted. If you don’t keep your word, it is highly likely that your files will be destroyed. Hackers wouldn’t be taken seriously if they didn’t go through with their threats.
- It isn’t just you
Ransomware isn’t isolated to only one organization. Cybercriminals often target various organizations at once. And they are very good at what they do. It is therefore important to secure your computers and your network, otherwise, given the current digital security climate, you’ll be sorry soon enough.