A new, devastating form of malware took the internet by storm in 2014, the latest edition of an annual study has shown.
According to Symantec’s 20th Internet Security Threat Report, crypto-ransomware attacks surged by a staggering 4,000 per cent over the 12-month period, driving a 113 per cent increase in ransomware infections as a whole.
Ransomware describes a form of digital extortion in which malicious software infects a person’s computer and orders them to hand cash over to hackers.
Traditionally, the perpetrators would pose as law enforcement and ask their victims to pay fines for stolen digital content such as films and music. In crypto-ransomware attacks, however, the software encrypts the users’ data and charges a ransom for its decryption.
This means that victims are left without access to their files, photos and other media unless they stump up a sum of around $300 to $500 (£200 – £340), Symantec said – often without the guarantee of having their data freed.
According to the report, 2014 also saw the first-ever crypto-ransomware attacks on Android devices, showing that hackers are seeking new targets outside of PC users.
Data recovery after an encryption-based cyber attack can be difficult, as it often depends on whether or not the cryptographic keys used by the perpetrators have been liberated and released in the public domain.
This happened with Cryptolocker, the most famous example of crypto-ransomware to date, but younger members of the malware family may not yet have been cracked.
Symantec also studied the techniques typically used by hackers to infect their targets, revealing that tried and tested methods remain the most successful.
These include spear-phishing, which describes the use of bogus emails to trick individuals into parting ways with their usernames and passwords, as well as other sensitive information.
It is wise to choose a data recovery company who has a track record in recovering from the type of data loss you have experienced.