How Ransomware Encryption Works

Ransomware encryption does not work differently from encryption that provides security to your data. 

You must invest in data security solutions and keep updated backups to prevent data loss. Although ransomware recovery services can try to restore your files, prevention is the best solution.

Ransomware is a dangerous type of malware that encrypts the data and demands a ransom payment for the decryptor. Current ransomware developers are using the double extortion tactic, where not only the data is encrypted but they also threaten to leak it on their Tor website. 

Therefore, preventing ransomware and having updated backups is the safest method to guarantee your data is secure. 

Your IT team or the cybersecurity service you hire can work to decrypt the files. However, it’s not always a hundred percent guaranteed since your files can become corrupted.
Knowing how ransomware encryption happens can clarify and help understand the importance of prevention and applying cybersecurity best practices to your business.

What is Encryption

Encryption is not a recent thing. Encrypted messages were used by Romans during their military campaigns. And even before that.  

Since the beginning, encryption is a secure method to share information when it has to go through a public and non-secure way, such as the public internet. So, while your data travels from one point to another, it’s encrypted to protect its information.

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However, the same method used to keep your data secured is used to block your access to it when ransomware gets inside your network. 

Therefore, if it’s nearly impossible for cybercriminals to access your encrypted files, it’s equally hard (if not impossible) to recover ransomware-encrypted data without the key provided by the hacker gang. 

Important: DO NOT PAY THE RANSOM. Even though they are promising the decryptor, it does not always happen and you might pay the cybercriminals and still not get your data.

Types of Ransomware Encryption Methods

There are two encryption methods: symmetric and asymmetric. They differ in levels of complexity and security. 

Hackers rarely use symmetric encryption since, even though it is faster, it’s more vulnerable as well. And cyberattacks are evolving and becoming incredibly complex.

Symmetric encryption

This is a simple way to encrypt data. Both the sender and the receiver use the letter in the same fixed number of positions, called “key”. The key is kept secret, and only the sender and receiver have it.
Symmetric encryption has two main ways to work, block ciphers and stream ciphers.

  • Block ciphers encrypt the data byte-sized blocks using the same key. An example of a block cipher is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) established by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001.
  • Stream ciphers encrypt each digit of the plaintext at a time using a pseudo-random key stream. So, each bit of the data has a different key. Salsa20 and ChaCha20 algorithms use stream cipher encryption.
Asymmetric encryption

This is a more complex encryption method. Asymmetric encryption has two keys: a public key and a private key.  

When developers use a public key to encrypt the data, it can only be opened using a private key. Also, when the encryption happens using a private key, only the public one can decrypt it. This is good for cybersecurity and data privacy since only the one who created the encryption can decrypt it. Which also allows authentication. 

However, hackers will also use it to encrypt data via their ransomware.  

To make things even more complicated for the victims, cybercriminals are developing more complex malware using a combination of symmetric and asymmetric encryption.

Common Encryption Algorithms

There are several encryption algorithms, some used for security and privacy, others that cybercriminals use for infecting businesses’ networks and extortion. However, most ransomware developers have custom-made encryption methods. 

Here are six of the most common encryption algorithms:

  • AES. The Advanced Encryption Standard is a secure and trusted encryption algorithm used by the U.S. government. This is considered a strong encryption that can protect data from attacks. However, recent ransomware are getting more sophisticated, making cybersecurity providers take more proactive actions than just encryption.
  • Triple DES. The Triple Data Encryption Algorithm uses symmetric encryption. This is a slow encryption and decryption method, yet it’s used by several financial organizations to keep their data safe.
  • Blowfish. This is a symmetric block cipher. Blowfish has a reputation for speed and flexibility, and it’s unbreakable. It is neither patented nor licensed, which means it’s a free public encryption software open to any user. Many e-commerce sites rely on Blowfish to keep payment details and passwords secure.
  • Twofish. This is also a symmetric block cipher, being an advanced version of Blowfish. Twofish is also license-free and has more security level than Blowfish.
  • FPE. Format Preserving Encryption is a new encryption algorithm. It encrypts the data keeping its structure, so your file remains the same after decryption.
  • RSA. If you’re looking for a way to encrypt your files to add extra protection to them, the Rivest–Shamir–Adleman encryption algorithm should be at the top of your list. It is an asymmetric encryption algorithm and is considered the best algorithm for encryption. However, keep in mind that ransomware attacks have been increasingly more complex and so it’s important to constantly update ransomware prevention strategies.

How ransomware encryption works

After gaining access to your network through a vulnerability (check ways cyber attacks happen), threatened actors (hackers) will add their payloads to the compromised computer. Then it will remain hidden on the system until triggered.

Once activated, it will use its own ransomware encryption algorithm, usually an asymmetric one. Ransomware encryption is fast and the malware does more than just encrypt data.

Make sure to contact a cybersecurity service to make sure your network has no vulnerabilities and that your data is secured. Contact the Proven Data team to create the best cybersecurity plan for your business.

Also, keep regular backups so you won’t need the decryption key in case of a ransomware attack.

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