The number of malware is growing everyday and the newest kid on the block so far is the type called ransomware. If you haven’t heard of it at this time, that’s probably because this type of malware has only become relatively popular these past few years. As its name suggests, ransomware makes your computer hostage by encrypting its contents. The developer can then demand for payment in exchange for a decryption key.
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What is a ransomware?
There has been hundreds of thousands of different ransomware variants discovered throughout the years although only a few became quite notorious. Some of them like CryptoLocker and CryptoWall even netted their creators millions of dollars in profits so it’s a lucrative business venture for malicious parties. In 2015, CryptoWall was said to have collected about $325 million from ordinary users and businesses around the world.
Before we tell you how to deal with this threat, let’s take a look at how a ransomware works. Basically, ransomware gets entry into a device, usually a computer, the same way as most malware. Once it is inside a system, it then begins encrypting the files on a computer so that the owner can no longer access them without the proper decryption key. The encryption process itself can be quite long although an average user may not notice it until it’s too late. For example, CrytoLocker will only appear once the targeted files are already scrambled. Unlike traditional malware that aims to cover their trails once they’ve access a system, every ransomware is designed to be discovered, but only after encrypting a computer’s files of course. If you want to see a detailed example of how a particular malware works, try to visit this link.
What makes ransomware so profitable and effective is based on the fact that computer users are humans who fears losing access to their system. Fear can push anyone to do an irrational move and in the context of ransomware, give in to the demands of a malicious third party. Some may pay the price for fear of losing their job if they can’t recover an important file. Others may be afraid to be locked out of their system especially if their machine contains embarrassing contents.
Different ransomware uses different ways to compel users to pay the an amount. Ransomware is constantly evolving, with the most recent ones becoming more sophisticated tactics to get users to pay. One such ransomware for example called Jigsaw can put real pressure on the victim by threatening to delete a number of files after every hour that he or she delays the payment. In general, a ransomware attack puts time pressure on a user although some have been known to force a user to buy a certain product.
Cybercriminals who develop ransomware tends to pick their target system carefully. Since 2013, the number of ransomware has appeared to have doubled, with a huge chunk of them hitting ordinary users, small businesses, schools, hospitals and even a police department in the US.
Cybercriminals tend to ask for small amount as they figure a victim will most likely pay up rather than face the hassle of removing or dealing with the problem head on. While some will demand for a few hundred dollars, many forms of ransomware will ask only a nominal payment like $10. Others will demand for Bitcoins depending on their preferred payment method.
What to do when faced with ransomware threat?
If you happen to fall victim to ransomware threat, we strongly suggest that you don’t give in to the demand. Paying a ransom does not work in many cases and there’s no guarantee that the cybercriminal from the other side will provide a decryption key after you pay up. Sometimes, paying the ransom at once can lead to more extortion, just like what happens to a hospital in Kansas. Instead of providing the unlock key, the hospital was asked to pay the second time.
The rule is to never pay. If you’re lucky, installing a free version of a security package like this one may help you remove the threat. Try to find a solution online to see if there’s a known method to deal with a particular ransomware threat in your system.
How to prevent your PC from falling victim to ransomware attack?
Like any malware, ransomware attacks can be prevented. Below are the steps that you can do to avoid getting malware into your computer.
- Be mindful of what you’re doing on your computer. Don’t be a fool. In today’s digital world, anything that you do on your computer can be exploited as an avenue for attack. When checking emails, try to avoid clicking on links. In most email clients, you can hover your mouse over a link (but don’t click) so you can see the URL on it. If you are not familiar with the said URL, make sure that you don’t click on it. The link may be a trigger for a malware attack on your system. You also need to avoid visiting unfamiliar and suspicious websites. A single click from a booby-trapped site is all it takes to load a malware into your computer. If your computer has already been infected, try to use another machine to research for a solution online.
- Create a backup of your irreplaceable files. Identify your important files and make sure that you back them up in another device or in a cloud service. Don’t wait for something drastic to happen before doing so. We know it can be a hassle to create a back up but it’s the most effective way to keep your data safe. Be sure to do it regularly too. Having a back up of your files is also an effective way to diminish the threat of ransomware. If your machine does come under attack, you can simply start over by wiping the machine for good.
- Turn on your browser’s or security software’s pop up blocker. Some ransomware are propagated via pop ups so setting up your computer to automatically block them can you from unnecessary heartache. If a pop up does manage to show up, make sure to close it by clicking on the “X” at the right hand corner of the box and not anywhere within the pop up itself. Cybercriminals most often recodes innocent-looking OK or cancel buttons so be sure not to click on them.
- Disconnect from the internet. Ransomware are designed to communicate back to its creator to report that your system has fallen victim so make sure to cut the internet from your machine right away. Doing so will also prevent the malware from sending your personal data to the criminals. Depending on the circumstances, you can either try to fix the issue yourself, or you can bring your machine to a reputable shop where it can be fixed. If you created a back up before hand, you can simply turn the computer off and reinstall the operating system.
- Install a good security package. This is a basic protection layer that you should do in a computer. If you think that the built-in Windows security package is not enough, try to invest in a good and reputable third party antivirus and firewall to keep malware away. But again, there’s no antivirus that can protect your computer if you are not smart enough to stay away from bad websites or suspicious email links.
- Keep your operating system up-to-date. Some ransomware like WannaCry are built to exploit operating system weaknesses so always make it a habit to keep your software in top shape. Windows machines are often the main targets of ransomware attacks so Microsoft is always on alert for any reported troubles. Patches for known vulnerabilities are released in a weekly basis for free so all you have to do is to set your machine to download and install them. Go under Control Panel>Windows Update and ensure that your PC receives the latest patches.
- Report ransomware attack to your local enforcement agency. Extortion is a crime in all countries so even if your local police may not be able to handle the situation, it’s your duty to report it.
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