Last week I discovered – luckily not by self-experience – a kind of malware, I have never heard of before: Ransomware. The ways it comes on your computer are the same like other malware. The difference is that ransomware runs a routine scanning your computer files for certain kinds of documents (mostly private ones such as *.doc, *. jpeg, etc.) and then encrypts them with a 1024 bit key. As of now, that key is decrypt-proof. You can be happy if you have a backup. Low-Level format the HDD, copy the backup and try to find the little hole the ransomware crawled through on your computer. You don’t have a backup? Well, there is another solution to the problem: Pay!
It is called ransomware because it gives the owner of the computer the option to transfer an account – most of the time 200$ or 250$ – via untraceable cracker-friendly payment escrow service. If it is received your data will be set free. If, after that experience, you still do not run backups you might end up paying again in the future. My brother made a very good point saying that there might be one options to ‘ruin’ the creators of the ransomware: you create and distribute your own ransomware but instead of freeing the files when the money is paid, you delete them. It made me think about applied social constructivist views on malware.
Let us start from the beginning. Reality is socially constructed. So, interactions and – most importantly – perceptions are forming the reality. If you can make an audience perceive something as something else, you do not have to change anything for real. Let us take an example: If a government is selling a military mission as peace mission – under the assumption they are doing a hell-of-a-job selling it – and it works you do not have to worry anymore that what you are doing might be unconstitutional. Because it the eyes of the beholder it is not an act of war but an almost peaceful mission to protect human rights and so on and so far. But the same fighting with the same resources goes on and on. So reality is not changed but by changing the perception of those in whose minds individual reality is created it is a peaceful mission for real. How does this concept helps us understand the ransomware issue? This kind of malware is in the first place distributed as a money making scheme. Of course, it does piss off people but that is not the intended purpose. You only pay the money if you are either a) totally desperate or b) believe that your files will be set free. BUT if you already heard from friends and media that they encountered the same problem, paid the money but never got their files ‘released’ the likelihood that you end up paying is quiet low. Less and less people will pay and in the end it will be only one or two desperate souls who help selling BMW’s in remote East-European countrysides. What makes the people pay is perception rather than trust because in my opinion you cannot really say that they have trust in the creators of that scheme. They just perceive it as the only chance to get the files released. If that perception changes, the grasp of hope will convert into a waste of money screaming: ‘move on and next time better back your files up!’.
In that case you might be able to fight fire with fire.