HomeTutorialsWhat Is Cryptoviral Extortion? How to Prevent It?

What Is Cryptoviral Extortion? How to Prevent It?

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Today, we will answer the question – what is cryptoviral extortion? Also, we will show you how to prevent it.

Cryptoviral extortion dates back to the late ’80s and early ’90s when the PC Cyborg/AIDS Information was spread to unsuspecting companies and businesses utilizing floppy disks. It was more of a classic example of the use of phishing/spamming.

The installed ransomware encrypts users’ hard drives, hides directories, and encrypts the file names in the system’s root directory, making the system unusable without decryption.

The author of the AIDS Information Introductory Trojan requested a ransom between $189 and $378 to be paid to a Panama post box before decrypting the files. He was later arrested based on a physically traceable address.

The 21st century makes payment anonymous and untraceable through the use of cryptocurrencies. This has encouraged the creation of more sinister crypto-viruses like the Teslacrypt, CTB-Locker, and Cryptowall, resulting in billions of dollars of annual loss to cybercrime. 

What Is Cryptoviral Extortion?

what is cryptoviral extortion

Cryptoviral extortion, or ransomware, is a cyberattack that leverages encryption to hold your valuable digital assets hostage.

Imagine a thief breaking into your house, locking up all your belongings, and demanding a ransom payment in exchange for the key. Cryptoviral extortion operates similarly, but in the digital realm.

The Mechanics of Cryptoviral Extortion

The attack typically unfolds in these steps:

  1. Infection: Malicious software (malware) infects your device. This malware can be disguised as legitimate software, arrive through phishing emails, or exploit vulnerabilities in your system.
  2. Encryption: The malware employs a sophisticated encryption technique called public-key cryptography. This creates a two-key system: a public key is used for encryption, and a private key is required for decryption.
  3. File Inaccessibility: The malware utilizes the public key to encrypt your essential files, rendering them inaccessible. This could include documents, photos, videos, financial data, or anything valuable.
  4. Ransom Demand: A message on your screen informs you that your files are encrypted and demands a ransom payment (often in cryptocurrency) to regain access.

What Makes Cryptoviral Extortion Different?

Unlike traditional viruses that might damage or corrupt files, cryptoviral extortion leverages public-key cryptography. Here's what sets it apart:

  • Public-Key Encryption: The attacker possesses the public key, which encrypts your files. Without the private key (held by the attacker), decryption becomes nearly impossible for most users.
  • Targeted Attacks: Cryptoviral extortion can target specific individuals, organizations, or entire networks, maximizing the impact and potential ransom payout.

Common Delivery Methods

Cryptoviral extortion attacks can be launched through various means, including:

  • Phishing Emails: Deceptive emails disguised as legitimate sources may contain malicious attachments or links that trigger the malware download.
  • Malicious Websites: Visiting compromised websites can unknowingly download malware onto your device.
  • Software Vulnerabilities: Outdated software with unpatched vulnerabilities can create openings for attackers to exploit and deploy malware.

READ ALSO: Computer Viruses Guide

How Does Cryptoviral Extortion Work

Cryptoviral extortion, a form of cybercrime, involves hijacking your data and demanding a ransom to get it back.

Here's a breakdown of the Cryptoviral extortion process:

1. Key Generation

The attacker creates a pair of cryptographic keys – a public key and a private key. Think of these keys as a complex lock and key system. The public key is widely distributed, while the private key is kept secret.

2. Weaponizing the Virus

The attacker embeds the public key into a malicious program called a “crypto-virus” or “ransomware.” This program becomes the weapon used to encrypt your files.

3. Spreading the Infection

The crypto-virus can infiltrate your system through various means, such as phishing emails, infected downloads, or even physical media like USB drives. Once inside, it encrypts your data on your hard drive and local directories.

4. Encryption with a Twist

Here's the twist: the crypto-virus utilizes a two-key encryption process. It generates a random, temporary symmetric key unique to your system for encrypting your files. This symmetric key acts like a single key for all your files.

5. Double Lock

The twist deepens. The crypto-virus then encrypts the temporary symmetric key using the attacker's public key. This creates an “asymmetric ciphertext,” essentially a complex, scrambled version of the symmetric key. Imagine locking a regular (symmetric) key inside a high-security safe (public key).

6. The Ransom Note

Once the encryption is complete, the crypto-virus displays a ransom message on your screen. This message typically includes:

  • The asymmetric ciphertext (the scrambled key)
  • Instructions on how to contact the attacker
  • Information on how to pay the ransom

7. Paying the Ransom (Optional)

Here's where the extortion comes into play. The victim, desperate to regain access to their files, might consider paying the ransom. If they do, they send the payment and the asymmetric ciphertext to the attacker.

8. Decrypting the Key

If the attacker receives the payment, they use their private key (remember, the other half of the lock-and-key pair they kept secret) to decrypt the asymmetric ciphertext. This process unlocks the scrambled temporary symmetric key.

9. Regaining Access (Maybe)

In theory, the attacker sends the decrypted symmetric key back to the victim. The victim can then use this key to decrypt their files and regain access. However, there's no guarantee the attacker will keep their promise and send back the decryption key.

Remember: Paying the ransom doesn't guarantee your files will be restored. It also encourages cybercriminals and funds their malicious activities. Prevention through backups and robust security practices is the best defence against cryptoviral extortion.

READ ALSO: How to Protect Your Computer from Ransomware: Essential Security Measures

How To Prevent Cryptoviral Extortion 

Here are some essential best practices to prevent cryptoviral extortion:

1. Backup Religiously

This is the golden rule of data protection. Maintain regular backups of your critical files on an external hard drive or a reputable cloud storage service like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive (both offer free 15GB plans with upgrade options for larger storage needs).

A recent backup ensures you can restore your data quickly without succumbing to extortion demands.

2. Phishing Awareness: Be Wary of Digital Bait

Phishing emails are a standard method for cryptoviral attacks. Attackers disguise malicious links and attachments as legitimate communications, tricking you into clicking and infecting your system. Here's how to stay vigilant:

  • Scrutinize Email Addresses and Sender Names: Be wary of emails from unknown senders or addresses with typos or inconsistencies.
  • Don't Click Blindly: Hover over links before clicking to see the destination URL. Suspicious URLs with strange characters or irrelevant domains are red flags.
  • Don't Open Unfamiliar Attachments: Avoid opening unknown files unless you're expecting an attachment from a trusted source.

3. Antivirus with Ransomware Protection: A Digital Shield

Reputable antivirus software with built-in ransomware protection is a crucial line of defence. These programs can detect and block malicious software before it encrypts your files.

Popular options include Kaspersky Total Security, Heimdal Thor Premium, Avira PrimePanda Dome, Norton Internet Security, etc. Consider security software reviews and choose a solution that best suits your needs.

4. Secure Browsing Habits: Navigate the Web with Caution

Not all websites are created equal. Some harbour malware and exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software. Here are some safe browsing practices:

  • Stick to Reputable Websites: When downloading software or visiting unfamiliar websites, prioritize established and trustworthy sources.
  • Beware of Free Downloads: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Free software downloads from untrusted sources can be laced with malware.
  • Keep Your Browser Updated: Just like your operating system, update your web browser regularly. These updates often include security patches to address vulnerabilities exploited by malware.

5. Software Updates: Patching the Gaps

Software updates often contain critical security patches that fix vulnerabilities cybercriminals can exploit. Here's how to stay on top of updates:

  • Enable Automatic Updates: Configure your operating system and software applications to update automatically whenever possible.
  • Review Update Notifications: Don't ignore update notifications. Take the time to install them promptly to ensure your software remains secure.

Following these preventative measures can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to cryptoviral extortion. Remember, proactive defence is the best defence against cyberattacks.

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Can Antivirus Protect You From CryptoViral Attack?

antivirus with ransomware protection

Antivirus software plays a vital role in cybersecurity, but its effectiveness against cryptoviral attacks is nuanced. Here's a breakdown of its capabilities:

  • Defence Against Known Threats: Antivirus programs effectively detect and block established forms of crypto-viruses. They can identify characteristic patterns in file encryption behaviour associated with known malware.

  • Limitations Against New Threats: Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their tactics. Zero-day attacks exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities and bypass traditional antivirus detection. Newer strains of crypto-viruses might be undetectable until security researchers identify and develop countermeasures.

So, is Antivirus Enough?

While antivirus software provides a valuable layer of protection, it shouldn't be considered a foolproof solution against cryptoviral extortion. Here's why a comprehensive approach is essential:

  • Backups are Your Safety Net: Regularly backing up critical data to an external drive or a cloud storage service is the ultimate defence. Even if a crypto-virus infects your system, you can restore your files from the backup without paying a ransom.

  • Security Awareness is Key: Phishing emails are a standard method for cryptoviral attacks. Educate yourself and your family about the signs of phishing attempts. Be cautious of suspicious emails, attachments, and links.

  • Layered Security for Maximum Protection: Consider combining security measures beyond antivirus software. These might include firewalls, anti-malware programs, and browser extensions that block malicious websites.

  • Software Updates: Patching the Gaps: Software updates often contain critical security patches that address vulnerabilities exploited by malware. Keeping your operating system, applications, and web browser updated is crucial.

Antivirus software offers valuable protection against known crypto-viruses, but it's a single line of defence.

By implementing a layered security approach, maintaining backups, and practising safe computing habits, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to cryptoviral extortion.

Cryptoviral Extortion FAQs

What is cryptoviral extortion?

Cryptoviral extortion is a form of cybercrime that involves encrypting a victim's data with a strong cypher and demanding a ransom payment to decrypt it. Attackers use malicious software called ransomware or crypto-viruses to carry out this extortion.

What does cryptovirology do?

Cryptovirology is a field of computer security that studies the use of cryptographic techniques in malicious software, particularly ransomware. It analyzes how encryption is used to lock victim data and explores methods for detecting, preventing, and mitigating such threats.

Who created cryptovirology?

The concept of cryptovirology is not attributed to a single person. It emerged from the evolution of cryptography and malware. In 1996, Adam L. Young and Moti Yung presented a paper at a security conference that is considered the foundation of the field, referring to it as “cryptoviral extortion.”

What is the function of cryptovirology?

The function of cryptovirology is to understand how attackers leverage cryptography in malware. By understanding these techniques, researchers can develop methods to:

  • Improve detection of ransomware through signature analysis or behavioural patterns.
  • Design algorithms to potentially decrypt files even without the decryption key.
  • Develop preventative measures to make systems more resistant to cryptoviral attacks.

What is the triple extortion scheme?

The triple extortion scheme is a variation of cryptoviral extortion where attackers encrypt a victim's data and steal it. They then threaten to publish the stolen data publicly if the ransom is unpaid. This adds another layer of pressure on the victim, as a data leak could have severe legal or reputational consequences.

Wrapping Up 

Cryptoviral extortion is another ransomware attack that has continually invaded the cybersphere.

Since cryptovirus constantly evolves to evade advanced antivirus features, you should apply the above-listed preventive measures to keep your system safe.


About the Author:

Gina Lynch
Cybersecurity Expert at SecureBlitz

Gina Lynch is a VPN expert and online privacy advocate who stands for the right to online freedom. She is highly knowledgeable in the field of cybersecurity, with years of experience in researching and writing about the topic. Gina is a strong advocate of digital privacy and strives to educate the public on the importance of keeping their data secure and private. She has become a trusted expert in the field and continues to share her knowledge and advice to help others protect their online identities.

Angela Daniel Author pic
Managing Editor at SecureBlitz | Website

Meet Angela Daniel, an esteemed cybersecurity expert and the Associate Editor at SecureBlitz. With a profound understanding of the digital security landscape, Angela is dedicated to sharing her wealth of knowledge with readers. Her insightful articles delve into the intricacies of cybersecurity, offering a beacon of understanding in the ever-evolving realm of online safety.

Angela's expertise is grounded in a passion for staying at the forefront of emerging threats and protective measures. Her commitment to empowering individuals and organizations with the tools and insights to safeguard their digital presence is unwavering.


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