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Windows 10 will try to combat ransomware by locking up your data

Enlarge / Cryptolocker was one of the ransomware pioneers, bringing together file encryption and bitcoin payment. (credit: Christiaan Colen / Flickr)

The latest Windows 10 build, today's 16232, contains a few new security features. In addition to the richer control over exploit mitigation that Microsoft announced earlier this week, the new build also includes a trial of a new anti-ransomware capability.

The long-standing approach that operating systems have used to protect files is a mix of file ownership and permissions. On multi-user systems, this is broadly effective: it stops one user from reading or altering files owned by other users of the same system. The long-standing approach is also reasonably effective at protecting the operating system itself from users. But the rise of ransomware has changed the threats to data. The risk with ransomware comes not with another user changing all your files (by encrypting them); rather, the danger is that a program operating under a given user's identity will modify all the data files accessible to that user identity.

In other words, if you can read and write your own documents, so can any ransomware that you run.

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Security researchers: Petya malware was designed to destroy information, not make money

Petya Ransomware

Yesterday morning, a new and nasty piece of ransomware dubbed Petya began spreading across the globe. Based on an exploit that was also used during the WannaCry ransomware attack, Petya locked down machines and demanded payment in the form of $300 worth of Bitcoin. As Petya began to spread worldwide, reports surfaced indicating that it had already impacted IT systems at companies such as Merck, Oreo and other large corporations.

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Tuesday’s massive ransomware outbreak was, in fact, something much worse

Enlarge / Code in Tuesday's attack, shown on the left, was altered to permanently destroy hard drives. (credit: Matt Suiche)

Tuesday's massive outbreak of malware that shut down computers around the world has been almost universally blamed on ransomware, which by definition seeks to make money by unlocking data held hostage only if victims pay a hefty fee. Now, some researchers are drawing an even bleaker assessment—that the malware was a wiper with the objective of permanently destroying data.

Initially, researchers said the malware was a new version of the Petya ransomware that first struck in early 2016. Later, researchers said it was a new, never-before-seen ransomware package that mimicked some of Petya's behaviors. With more time to analyze the malware, researchers on Wednesday are highlighting some curious behavior for a piece of malware that was nearly perfect in almost all other respects: its code is so aggressive that it's impossible for victims to recover their data.

In other words, the researchers said, the payload delivered in Tuesday's outbreak wasn't ransomware at all. Instead, its true objective was to permanently wipe as many hard drives as possible on infected networks, in much the way the Shamoon disk wiper left a wake of destruction in Saudi Arabia. Some researchers have said Shamoon is likely the work of developers sponsored by an as-yet unidentified country. Researchers analyzing Tuesday's malware—alternatively dubbed PetyaWrap, NotPetya, and ExPetr—are speculating the ransom note left behind in Tuesday's attack was, in fact, a hoax intended to capitalize on media interest sparked by last month's massive WCry outbreak.

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Experts say Petya ransomware is just a ‘test’ for something much worse

Petya ransomware: expert analysis

A new ransomware attack, modeled after the recent WannaCry exploit, has hit thousands of organizations and users worldwide. But according to a handful of security experts, it's only the tip of the iceberg. The ransomware attack, which encrypts users' files and demands a ransom to unlock them, could just be a test attack, or cover for more malicious damage being done by the virus.

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How to protect your Windows computer against the recent malware attack

Global Ransomware Attack

A new wave of ransomware attacks swept the world on Tuesday, starting with Ukraine and spreading to other regions of the world. The attack was immediately compared to last month’s WannaCry, but that’s not quite the case, as the new ransomware isn’t as viral.

Researchers already found a stupid simple way to protect Windows machines that might be affected by Petya, but that will not stop them from spreading it to other computers.

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