Researchers develop a way to stop ransomware
Ransomware – what hackers use to encrypt your computer files and demand money in exchange for freeing those contents – is an exploding global problem with few solutions, but a team of University of Florida researchers says it has developed a way to stop it dead in its tracks.
The answer, they say, lies not in keeping it out of a computer but rather in confronting it once it’s there and, counterintuitively, actually letting it lock up a few files before clamping down on it.
“Our system is more of an early-warning system. It doesn’t prevent the ransomware from starting … it prevents the ransomware from completing its task … so you lose only a couple of pictures or a couple of documents rather than everything that’s on your hard drive, and it relieves you of the burden of having to pay the ransom,” said Nolen Scaife, a UF doctoral student and founding member of UF’s Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research.
Scaife is part of the team that has come up with the ransomware solution, which it calls CryptoDrop.
With an advance that one cryptography expert called a “masterpiece,” University of Texas at Austin computer scientists have developed a new method for producing truly random numbers, a breakthrough that could be used to encrypt data, make electronic voting more secure, conduct statistically significant polls and more accurately simulate complex systems such as Earth’s climate.
The new method creates truly random numbers with less computational effort than other methods, which could facilitate significantly higher levels of security for everything from consumer credit card transactions to military communications.
Computer science professor David Zuckerman and graduate student Eshan Chattopadhyay will present research about their method in June at the annual Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC), the Association for Computing Machinery’s premier theoretical computer science conference. An invitation to present at the conference is based on a rigorous peer review process to evaluate the work’s correctness and significance. Their paper will be one of three receiving the STOC Best Paper Award.
“This is a problem I’ve come back to over and over again for more than 20 years,” says Zuckerman. “I’m thrilled to have solved it.”
Chattopadhyay and Zuckerman publicly released a draft paper describing their method for making random numbers in an online forum last year. In a field more accustomed to small, incremental improvements, the computer science community hailed the method, suggesting that, compared with earlier methods, this one is light years ahead. Oded Goldreich, a professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, commented that even if it had only been a moderate improvement over existing methods, it would have justified a “night-long party.”