Nobody seems to be able to stop ransomware. Only two years ago it was a criminal sideline comprising perhaps four or five families of malware. In the first half of 2016 alone, perhaps 60 new types of ransomware have been detected, the majority of which slip past standard antivirus defences without too much bother. With no cheap, universal solution on the horizon, the toll of victims both large and small has grown exponentially.
Now a clutch of European police forces and cybersecurity firms has launched No More Ransom, a first-port-of-call website consumer and SME victims can visit (Twitter #nomoreransom) to search for advice and even, where they exist, available decryption tools.
No More Ransom - who is involved?
Europol, the Dutch National Police, Intel Security, Kaspersky Lab and, (although its involvement is not announced), ESET, which has made available a number of excellent decryption tools. Other names could be in the frame.
To celebrate the launch, the group also announced the takedown of servers holding decryption keys for the Shade ransomware. This variant has never been a big player in the UK but doubtless its 160,000 or so victims will be pleased to hear that the C2 has been cracked.
What's on offer?
The site has several elements to it - advice on prevention and clean-up, downloadable decryption tools for specific firms of ransomware and links through which ransomware incidents can be reported through national police centres. Interestingly, it also offers the facility to check the identity of ransomware by uploading the ransom text and even an infected file to see whether a tool is available that can decrypt it.
Are decryption tools worth the bother?
Not long ago decryption tools were few and far between but as the number of variants has increased researchers and security firms have got to grips with the issue, often posting utilities and workarounds soon after new strains appear. Although this means the situation has improved over time but most variants can't be unlocked and some may never be cracked.
Currently, No More Ransom offers three utilities: CoinVault, ShadeDecryptor (for Shade ransomware, see above), RannohDecryptor and RakniDecryptor which between them can decrypt a range of ransomware/versions including CoinVault, Bitcryptor, Cryptxxx 1, 2 and 3.
Although far from comprehensive it's a start. When ransomware variants first appear there is rarely a tool to decrypt files. Over time, as police make arrests and researchers spot flaws in ransomware, new tools appear. It is critical that these tools are kept up to date as new ones appear.
Is there a catch?
When we asked Raj Samani, EMEA CTO for No More Ransom Intel Security and one of the project's main movers, he said that the project would add backers over time from both security vendors as well as police forces.
"Our primary objective is to get this up and out there right now. Every day we delay the more people are paying money to criminals. We've got to get this as quickly as we can," he told Computerworld UK.
"We've done a number of takedowns in the past and remediation has been the most challenging aspect of these projects." When advice was offered through conventional routes such as vendor blogs, "The level of takeup is from poor to average."
There was still no single place victims could visit to start to understand this type of attack and get advice or decryption help, he said.
According to Europol deputy director operations, Wil van Gemert:
"For a few years now ransomware has become a dominant concern for EU law enforcement. Initiatives like the No More Ransom project shows that linking expertise and joining forces is the way to go in the successful fight against cybercrime."
As good as No More Ransom looks, it needs to become an industry-wide initiative to make much headway in the long term. That could prove tricky as many cybersecurity firms sadly still see their anti-ransomware knowledge as a competitive advantage designed to sell security software.
Is No More Ransom the only option?
In fact, a small number of excellent advice sites have sprung up to help with ransomware, most of which are not known beyond computer professionals. The best example of this is Lawrence Abrahms' Bleeping Computer, which has a reputation for keeping tabs on new ransomware variants and decryption tools that aren't hosted on the No More Ransom website. For our money, this is still the first place a technical user should visit.