Ever worry that your computer mouse or keyboard might turn against you? If not, you probably should. Ransomware gangs have found a new trick: hijacking the very tools you use every day to launch stealthy cyberattacks. That USB drive you found in the parking lot or that software update you downloaded could contain malicious code designed to lock up your files and hold them for ransom. These hackers are getting creative, using trusted and familiar technologies as Trojan horses to sneak ransomware into networks and devices. No company is too small to be a target, and no tool too mundane to be turned into a weapon. Read on to find out how to spot the warning signs before it’s too late and your digital world is turned upside down.

How Ransomware Uses Legitimate System Tools

Ransomware has upped its game and is now leveraging basic system tools already on your computer to do its dirty work. The bad guys use legitimate programs you probably use every day to spy on you, spread infections to other systems, and cover their tracks.

One way ransomware employs normal apps is to use them for reconnaissance. By observing common utilities like Task Manager, the ransomware can see what security software you have installed so it knows how to avoid detection. It may also monitor your browsing habits and files to find sensitive data to encrypt.

Ransomware frequently uses system tools to spread to other systems. For example, it can use Windows administrative tools to access mapped network drives and encrypt files on other PCs. It may also use email clients to send itself to addresses in your contacts list or use remote access software you have set up to infect systems elsewhere.

Finally, ransomware leverages basic apps to disguise its malicious activity. It may rename its executable files to look like common system files or use the Windows Command shell to run its payload in a way that mimics normal admin functions. Some strains even use disk cleanup and defragmenter tools to overwrite their code and cover their tracks after file encryption.

By taking advantage of the very applications and utilities meant to help system administrators and users, ransomware is becoming stealthier and extending its reach. The ability to turn trusted software into cyberweapons poses a serious threat and underscores the importance of defense in depth – using multiple layers of security controls to prevent, detect, and mitigate ransomware attacks.

Top 3 Tools Weaponized by Ransomware Gangs

Ransomware gangs have turned to some unexpected tools to pull off their cybercrimes. Here are three of the most popular tools they’ve weaponized recently:

Remote Desktop Protocol or RDP, is typically used by IT staff to access and manage computers remotely. But ransomware gangs have exploited weak RDP passwords to gain access, then deploy ransomware across entire networks. The solution? Use strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication if available.

PowerShell is a handy administrative tool for automating and managing systems. Unfortunately, it’s also useful for distributing malware when misused. Several ransomware strains have leveraged PowerShell to move laterally within networks and infect as many endpoints as possible. Restricting PowerShell usage and monitoring for malicious scripts can help reduce the risk.

Finally, Cobalt Strike is a legitimate pen testing tool for simulating cyberattacks, but ransomware gangs have pirated it to orchestrate real network intrusions and ransomware deployments. They take advantage of the tool’s ability to evade detection and pivot across systems. Organizations should monitor for signs of Cobalt Strike activity and unauthorized pen testing tools.

By co-opting common IT software and resources, ransomware gangs can hide their malicious activity in plain sight. But with vigilance and proactive defense measures, organizations can work to deny them these weapons of choice. Staying up-to-date with the latest ransomware tactics and hardening systems and access points accordingly is key. Knowledge and preparation are your best weapons against these cybercriminals.

Defending Against Ransomware’s Latest Tactics

Defending against ransomware requires vigilance and proactive steps to secure your systems. Here are some best practices to help avoid becoming a victim:

Keep your operating system and software up to date with the latest patches. Ransomware often exploits vulnerabilities in outdated code, so updating frequently eliminates easy targets for infection.

Use reputable antivirus software and keep it current. Antivirus solutions use definitions and heuristics to detect ransomware and other malware, but they must be kept up to date to catch the latest threats. Run regular scans to check for infections.

Be cautious of phishing emails and malicious links. Never click links or download attachments from unsolicited emails. Phishing is a common method for distributing ransomware.

Back up your important files regularly. Keep copies of data, documents, photos, and other files in a separate location in case your system becomes infected. Backups allow you to restore your files without paying a ransom.

Limit user privileges. Only give employees and users the minimum access needed to do their jobs. Restrict admin accounts to only a few authorized individuals. Less privilege means less opportunity for ransomware to run rampant.

Stay educated on the latest ransomware news and tactics. Cybercriminals are constantly developing new techniques, so learning about emerging threats will help you better defend against them. Share information with your employees and colleagues as well.

By taking a proactive stance, you can help mitigate the risk of ransomware disrupting your day-to-day operations. While no single solution is foolproof, multiple layers of defense will make you a harder target and better able to avoid becoming another victim. Staying vigilant and keeping systems up to date are your best weapons in the fight.


So there you have it, folks. Ransomware actors are upping their game in dangerous ways by weaponizing common tools we use to spy, spread, and launch attacks. They’re using the very software and services designed to make our digital lives more efficient and connected to infiltrate systems and hold data, hostage. No one is immune, and everyone has a role to play to strengthen defenses. Update your software, back up your files, and be extremely wary of unsolicited messages and links. Stay vigilant and spread the word – ransomware is evolving, and we must adapt to outmaneuver their latest schemes. Our digital security depends on it.