Social media is full of scare stories about ransomware and the damage it can do to businesses and personal users. However, taking a few precautions and planning ahead can minimise the potential for damage. Understanding what ransomware is and how it works enables you to protect your computers and important files. Here’s what you need to know about ransomware.
Ransomware is an increasingly prevalent form of malicious software (malware) that works by blocking access to files, folders or whole devices. Once cybercriminals have taken control of your system, they can demand a ransom to restore your files. Ransom payments are usually made with cryptocurrency, although credit cards, PayPal and even cash payments are sometimes used.
Types of Ransomware
Encryption ransomware works by encrypting individual files or folders so that you can only access them with a special code or encryption key. With this type of ransomware, you should still be able to use your computer and any unaffected files.
Screen lockers work by blocking access to your entire computer. If your computer has been infected with screen-locking ransomware, you will see a full-size window covering the whole screen. This window will contain instructions for making the ransom payment. The message on the lock screen may claim that your computer has been locked due to suspicious or illegal activity and will often appear to come from an official source, such as law enforcement or legal departments.
Another common type of ransomware is the security scam, which starts by displaying a pop-up window that appears to come from your antivirus or security software. The window may claim that your computer is infected with a virus and the only way to remove it is to make a one-off payment for a special removal tool.
File encryptors, screen lockers and security scams are the most common forms of ransomware, but there are new types being developed all the time.
Sources of Ransomware
Ransomware can come from a number of sources, including email attachments, infected websites and malicious advertisements. Spam emails containing attachments or links to malicious websites are among the most common causes of malware infections. Links in social media posts, online forums and even messaging apps can also direct users to infected websites.
Malicious advertisements can contain code and webpage elements that distribute ransomware and other malware to unprotected computers. These advertisements are automatically loaded when you visit particular websites, which means that your computer can be infected with malware even if you don’t click on the advertisement or link. Browser add-ons, infographics, program installation files and many other files downloaded from the Internet can also contain malware.
Protecting Against Ransomware
Staying vigilant and being cautious when opening email attachments, clicking on links and downloading files from the Internet will significantly reduce the risk of ransomware infection, but there are other things you can do to increase security and protect your computer from malware. Installing a security suite and antivirus software is essential for any computer or device with access to the Internet.
Most operating systems and browsers provide extra security settings to increase online safety. However, the best protection against ransomware is to make regular backups of all your files. If you keep up-to-date backups of your data, you will be able to restore any files encrypted by the ransomware.
If your computer is infected by ransomware, you can try using decryption tools to recover encrypted files. You can also try using software available from trusted security companies to regain access to a locked computer. However, these tools are not effective for some types of ransomware. Often, the best solution is to wipe the hard drive and reinstall the backup files. Security experts advise users never to pay the ransom, as there is no guarantee that cybercriminals will restore the files.
Finally, you should report any ransomware attacks to the relevant authorities in your country, as this helps security experts to design tools to protect against this ongoing threat.