Technology 3 min read

Researchers Develop Time-Traveling Solid State Drive to Fight Ransomware Attacks

A team of university students leveraged an existing feature in flash-based electronic devices to sort of go back in time to thwart ransomware attacks.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Malware comes in different types, and one of the most common is ransomware.

The earliest versions of this malware go back to the late 1980s, and while devices and hacking techniques have evolved, their concept remains the same. Cybercriminals use ransomware to encrypt computer files and prevent victims from accessing them. Then, they ask for hefty ransom in exchange for the decryption code.

Bad Rabbit, Locky, Ryuk, and other ransomware are just examples of this malicious software that caused significant damage in recent years.

Researchers at the University of Illinois thought of an ingenious countermeasure against ransomware — and it involves a sort of time travel so to speak.

Ransomware-Proof Devices go Back in Time to Retrieve Files

The research team is composed of Chance Coats and Xiaohao Wang, students from the University of Illinois College of Engineering, and Assistant Professor Jian Huang, from the Coordinated Science Laboratory.

Together they developed what they call Project Almanac, a time-travel solid-state drive (SSD) that keeps personal files safe and secure against any malicious encryption attacks.

The team designed an SSD, named TimeSSD, which, as described in the paper, tracks the history of storage states in a device for a window of time, and thanks to a toolkit named TimeKits, provides storage-state query and rollback functions.

“The flash-based, solid-state drives … are part of the storage system in most computers. When a file is modified on the computer, rather than getting rid of the old file version immediately, the solid-state drive saves the updated version to a new location. Those old versions are the key to thwarting ransomware attacks. If there is an attack, the tool discussed in the paper can be used to revert to a previous version of the file.”

Read More: Quantum Security: Quantum Key Distribution is the End of Malware

This tool provides an excellent ransomware countermeasure, and also it would also be useful when a user, for example, deletes their files accidentally.

Ransomware, however, aren’t all equal. They come in different types, such as crypto ransomware which are designed to encrypt personal files.

But there may be another type of malicious software that could be more dangerous.

Locker ransomware, as its name suggests, locks the user’s laptop, PC, or phone and threatens them to delete the files forever unless they pay the ransom. In this case, the user can’t even access their device itself, let alone get to their files that could be encrypted as another layer of hacking.

Researchers didn’t address this issue. But their approach is quite impressive, and they intend to focus on retaining data for a much longer time and look for potential other applications of their time-traveling solid-state drive like systems debugging and digital forensics.

Read More: Ransomware Will Leverage The IoT To Compromise The Entire Network

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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