No More Ransom: A New Initiative to Battle Ransomware

Ransomware has seen a huge increase over the past couple of years.  According to our June Quarterly Threats Report, there was a 113% increase in ransomware over the past year.  However, the real indicator for me has been an increase in questions about ransomware I get from people once they find out I work for Intel Security.  Working in the security industry, you hear these terms all the time, but when my doctor brings up ransomware I know it’s a big issue.

Ransomware is particularly damaging because it can encrypt files on your computer and make them unrecoverable unless you pay a ransom to get them unlocked.  It may not sound like a big deal at first, but ransomware typically goes after pictures and personal documents.  Pictures from your last vacation, your favorite concert or your kid’s first birthday are all at risk of being permanently encrypted and effectively gone forever.

no more ransomAt Intel Security, we believe that people should be able to use a computer, tablet or smartphone without fear of having their information stolen or held hostage.  This is why we worked with other organizations in law enforcement and security to form No More Ransom.

This portal was put in place to serve as a way to help educate the public about ransomware, but more importantly, to also offer decryption tools to help people recover files that have been locked by ransomware.   On the site ( you’ll find decryption tools for many types of ransomware, including the Shade ransomware.

How Do I Know Which Ransomware I Have?

RW-SheriffIt can be difficult to know exactly what type of ransomware has infected your system, which is why my favorite feature of the No More Ransom site is the Crypto Sheriff.  Aside from being fun to say, the Crypto Sheriff is a tool that helps you figure out which ransomware is on your system.   To use the Crypto Sheriff, you upload 2 encrypted files and any email address or website you see in the ransom demand and Crypto Sheriff will provide you with a link to download the correct decryption tool.

An Ounce of Prevention

No More Ransom goes a long way to help people impacted by ransomware, but unfortunately there are still many types of ransomware out there without a fix.  If you’ve been infected by one of these types of ransomware the only way to recover from it is to restore your files from a backup.  Most ransomware uses encryption that would take years to crack, so unless a decryption key is available there is little you can do to recover infected files.  Fortunately, there are some preventative steps you can take to protect yourself from ransomware.

  1. Update, update, update – Updating your operating system (OS) and applications will go a long way towards fixing the software vulnerabilities ransomware uses to infect your system.
  2. Use robust antivirus software – Antivirus software can help catch ransomware before it has a chance to infect your system. Remember the tip above and make sure your security software is set to automatically update so you always have the latest protection.
  3. Be suspicious – Ransomware is often spread by malicious links. Since you most likely wouldn’t click on a link sent by a stranger, cybercriminals will often use phishing emails that appear to be from a friend, your bank, the government, etc to trick you into clicking on a link containing malware.  These links can also come from social media or instant messages from friends who have had their account compromised.  The bad guys crack your friend’s password and send links pretending to be them.
  4. Back it up – If all else fails, keeping a backup of your important files can help you recover in case of a ransomware infection. There are plenty of good online backup options, but you can also use a portable drive and attach it when you need to backup.  If you use a portable drive, make sure to unplug it when not in use, or it could also be encrypted by ransomware.

Getting infected with ransomware can cause no end of headaches.  However, though a combination of preventative measures and the tools available at No More Ransomware you can continue to enjoy your digital life.  For more information about ransomware, feel free to take a look at our primer on ransomware.

Stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following@IntelSec_Home on Twitter, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

Stay safe!

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Quarterly Threat Report: What Do the Numbers Mean to Me?

Every quarter, the team at McAfee Labs releases a threat report detailing information about the latest trends in malware and cybersecurity.  This “Cyber State of the Union” provides a lot of great insights but may seem a bit overwhelming to someone who doesn’t work in the security industry.   We’ve really reached a point where information security is something that impacts practically everyone, so I thought it would be a good to go through the report and put some context around the numbers.

The first thing we want to take a look at is the total malware number.  As you would expect, our Labs team finds a lot of malware.

Total Malware

Total Malware

As of the end of 2015, our total collected malware was approaching almost 500 million unique pieces of malware.  Almost half a billion threats running around out there!  What should really put that number into perspective is if you take a look at the far left of the chart and see that at the beginning of 2014, there were barely over 200 million malware samples.  So over the course of 2 years, the amount of malware has more than doubled.  If malware were rain, we have gone from “better take an umbrella” to “get your goulashes.”

The next important number we need to look at is the “Total Mobile Malware” number.  This number represents the number of unique malware that is targeting a mobile operating system.  This does include tablets that are running Android and iOS as well.

Mobile Malware Totals

Mobile Malware Totals

There are two points to pay attention to in this chart.  At the beginning of 2014, the total was around 4 million but by the end of 2015, it was slightly over 12 million.  That’s more than triple growth in 2 years.  There are a number of factors that contributed to this increase, but overall it shows that cybercriminals are definitely paying much more attention to attacking people on their smartphones and tablets.  It makes a certain amount of sense if you think about it.  We do more and more on our smartphones every day, from shopping to paying our bills.  This of course makes them a much more enticing target.  For more information on the state of mobile malware and why we’re seeing such huge increases, you can check out my previous post on the topic, or read the full Mobile Threat Report.


Think Macs don’t get malware?

Total Mac OS Malware

Total Mac OS Malware

Your eyes were drawn to the huge upswing in 2015, right?  As we moved into 2015, we saw a huge uptick in malware targeting Macs.  Historically there has been the urban myth that Macs are more secure than PCs, when in reality it’s really just a matter of targets of opportunity.  There have historically just been more PCs in circulation and a cybercriminal wants to use malware that will infect the largest number of systems possible.   As the number of Macs in use continues to grow, we expect to see an increase in the amount of malware targeting the Mac OS.    If you have a Mac, you are not immune to malware.

And last, but certainly not least, we have ransomware.

Total Ransomware

Total Ransomware

If you’re not familiar with ransomware, please take a moment to read my previous post.  Ransomware has proven to be a low risk, high-reward way for cybercriminals to cash in.  As you can see, the amount of ransomware doubled in just 2015 alone.  There are a number of reasons for this, including ransomware-as-a-service and do-it-yourself ransomware kits that make it extremely easy for someone with little to no coding ability to launch a ransomware attack.  Enough people infected with ransomware find themselves without adequate backup or recovery options that cybercriminals continue to profit with this method.


Key Takeaways

  1. The total number of malware has doubled in the past 2 years, reaching almost half a billion unique samples.
  2. Malware targeting smartphones and tablets has tripled in the past 2 years, showing that cybercriminals are paying much more attention to mobile devices.
  3. Attacks against Macs are increasing dramatically. If you have a Mac, you are not immune to attack.
  4. Ransomware continues to grow. This threat impacts everyone from people at home to small businesses, to large organizations.


How do I stay safe?

  1. Update: Keeping your devices up to date with the latest security and operating system patches is a great first line of defense against malware.  Malware targets software bugs to infect your system, so installing the latest patches can help reduce your risk.


  1. Be suspicious: Cybercriminals use the standard tried and true methods for spreading ransomware, so take extra care to not click on a suspicious link or attachment. What makes it suspicious?  Maybe it’s an oddly worded email pretending to be your bank asking for more information.  It could be an unexpected attachment from someone in your contact list.  If you weren’t expecting someone to send you an attachment, call or text them to double check.


  1. Run anti-virus on your system: While the two steps above will keep a lot of malware out, it is still very important to run anti-virus on your system to protect against new exploits that aren’t yet fixed by an update or attacks like drive by downloads. The cost of anti-virus software will be dramatically less than what cybercriminals will demand in ransom!


  1. Backup, backup, backup: Most malware can be really difficult to completely remove from your system once it has wormed its way in, so sometimes the only way to be completely clean is to restore from a backup. If your system becomes encrypted due to ransomware, your only options may be to either pay the ransom, restore from a backup or lose your files completely.  There are many options out there for backing up your data reliably and safely.

Stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following me and @IntelSec_Home on Twitter, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

Stay safe!

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3 Lies Parents Tell Themselves That Can Put Their Kids at Risk

shutterstock_284183372Trying to keep up with your kids online feels a bit like patching holes in a sinking boat at times doesn’t it?

A recent Intel Security study reveals a gap in what parents perceive kids to be doing online, and what’s actually taking place in behaviors such as cyberbullying, creating aliases, and the amount of time spent online. The study, “The Realities of Cyber Parenting: What Pre-teens and Teens Are Up To Online,” examines the online behaviors and social networking habits of American pre-teens and teens ages 8 to 16 years old.

But rather than get overwhelmed or discouraged when we hear the latest stats, we can use this new information to restart reality—and refuse to let denial run the show.

Here are 3 common lies parents tell themselves and some realities to help you recalibrate your thinking.

1. I can trust my kids online. This is a favorite, bliss-painted lie parents tell themselves. While it may be true that you can trust your kids in general, the online world poses temptations and threats that even the savviest parent—and the most trustworthy teen—can’t begin to anticipate. Predators, scammers, and bullies are part of life and only amplify their tactics in the online arena. Social networks, texting, and now live streaming apps have transformed parenting priorities and establishing a new kind of trust.

Another reality check: Kids’ brains are not fully formed until they are about 21 years old. So even the most predictable kids can and will make surprising decisions.

Truth: Yes, trust your kids in general but don’t trust the Internet. Take the same precautions you would take if you let your kids hang out in a big city. Educate them. Coach them. Know their favorite digital hangouts and guide them along the way just as you would if you were teaching them how to drive.

Talk candidly and openly about relevant digital issues. Keep up on technology, slang, and trends as they affect your kids. Find common ground and communicate often. Don’t wait for your kids to tell you, stay informed about popular technology and ask your kids if they are using risky apps.shutterstock_165358493

2. Been there, done that. We’ve had the online safety talk already. This lie is one that is not only naïve, it’s dangerous. While you may have reviewed the basics of online safety, it’s not enough. Technology moves too quickly, new temptations arise, and simply put—kids forget the basics all the time (like brushing their teeth or taking out the trash)—so they need a parent’s guidance as part of everyday conversation.

Truth: Talking about online safely with kids and teens is pretty much like making them eat their vegetables. You can bet if you weren’t around they’d likely be eating Captain Crunch! Internet safety is a topic you need to visit often. Keep the conversation lighthearted but real when it comes to the potential dangers online. This game plan is a great place to start.

3. My kids understand this tech stuff better than I do—they will be fine. Many parents feel disconnected and out of touch with their digital children; so much so, they throw their hands up and simply hope for the best. But having tech skills does not equate to having tech wisdom, which is where you, parent, come in. 

Truth: Yes, your child’s online life is a lot to keep up with but making a hero’s effort to stay informed is far better than sticking your head in the sand. Your kids need you now more than ever. Be aware of your kid’s digital paths—where they go and with whom they converse. Pour into them the integrity and awareness it takes to become a strong—and savvy—digital citizen.

You are right. Technology is moving too fast. You spend hours a week keeping up with, monitoring, and guiding your kids in the digital realm. However, by staying involved, you can prepare them for making the best digital decisions as they mature in this vast digital space.

What’s your biggest challenge as a parent of a digital tween or teen? Do you believe you are in touch with your child’s online life?






Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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McAfee Labs 2014 Threats Predictions

As we wind down the year, it’s a time to reflect, but also to look forward. Some of us may be thinking about resolutions and what we need to do in the upcoming year—exercise more, eat better, have better work/life balance, etc. Others of us will be thinking about how we’re going to ring in the New Year.

This time of year the McAfee Labs™ team is busy looking at what the new threats are going to be and what are new trends they expect to see. Today they released their 2014 Threats Predictions, and here’s what they believe will be in store for us:

Mobile Malware

While this is not new, this category of malware is growing like wildfire and McAfee Labs sees no slow down on this in 2014. And besides continued growth in this category (mostly on the Android platform), they believe that some  types of mobile attacks will become prevalent.

One of these growing attacks is ransomware targeting mobile devices. Once the cybercriminal has control of your device, they will hold your data “hostage” until you pay money (whether that’s conventional or virtual, like Bitcoin) to the perpetrator. But as with traditional ransomware, there’s no guarantee that you really will get your data back.

Other mobile tactics that will increase include exploiting the use of the Near Field Communications (NFC) feature (this lets consumers simply “tap and pay,” or make purchases using close-range wireless communications), now on many Android devices, to corrupt valid apps and steal data without being detected.

Virtual Currencies

While the growth of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies is helping promote economic activity, it also provides cybercriminals using ransomware attacks with a perfect system to collect money from their victims. Historically, payments made from ransomware have been subject to law enforcement actions via the payment processors, but since virtual currency is not regulated and anonymous, this makes it much easier for the hackers to get away with their attacks.

Attacks via Social Networking Sites

We’ve already seen the use of social networks to spread malware and phishing attacks. With the large number of users on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the likes, the use of these sites to deliver attacks will continue to grow.

In 2014, McAfee Labs also expects to see attacks that leverage specific features of these social networking sites, like Facebook’s open graph. These features will be exploited to find out more information about your friends, location or personal info and then be used for phishing or real-world crimes.

The other form of social attacks in 2014 will be what McAfee Labs calls “false flag” attacks. These attacks trick consumers by using an “urgent” request to reset one’s password. If you fall for this, your username and password will be stolen, paving the way for collection of your personal information and friend information by the hacker.



Here’s some security resolutions to help you stay safe online in 2014:

  • Strengthen your passwords: If you’re still using easy to remember passwords that include your home address and pet’s name, it’s time to get serious about creating strong passwords that are at least eight characters long, and a combination of numbers, letters and symbols. Don’t include any personal information that can be guessed by hackers.
  • Don’t open or click on suspicious emails, text or links: By simply opening an email with a piece of ransomware within it you could be leaving your devices vulnerable to hijacking.
  • Be aware when downloading apps: Since apps are the main way mobile malware is spread today, make sure to do your research before downloading any app and only download from reputable app stores.
  • Limit your use of NFC, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: If your phone has NFC capabilities, you may be unaware of default settings. Turning this feature off, as well as turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, will not only help you save battery life on your devices, but prevent attacks from hackers looking to exploit your wireless connections.
  • Check your bank statements and mobile charges regularly: This way, you can discover and report any suspicious charges
  • Install comprehensive security on all your devices: With the growing amount of threats that we’re seeing, you want to make sure that your all your devices (not just your PC) are protected. Consider installing security software such as McAfee LiveSafe™ service that protects your data, identity and all your devices (PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets).


RobertSicilianoRobert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked!  Disclosures.