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What is ransomware and how can you prevent ransomware attacks?

You have probably heard of ransomware in the office or read about it in the news, maybe you’ve got a pop-up on your screen right now warning you about a ransomware infection. In this blog post, we will try to explain what ransomware is and how can you help prevent ransomware attacks.

So what is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents users from accessing their system or personal files and demands a ransom payment in order to regain access. The earliest forms of ransomware were developed in the late 1980s and the payment was asked to be sent via snail mail, in contrast to today’s ransomware authors, who demand payments via cryptocurrency or credit card. In this case, the victim has to pay the ransom or risk losing access to those files forever.

Basically, ransomware holds your personal files hostage, keeping you from accessing your documents, photos, and financial information. The files are still on your computer, but the malware has encrypted them, making the data stored on your computer or mobile device inaccessible.

While the idea behind this form of malware is relatively simple, fighting back when you’re the victim of a malicious attack can be a lot more complex. And it’s not guaranteed that you will receive the encryption key even after paying the ransom.

Knowing what types of ransomware is out there, along with some do’s and don’ts surrounding these attacks, can go a long way when it comes to protecting yourself from such attacks in the future.

Let’s have a look of the types of ransomware that you might encounter

Ransomware attacks can come in many different forms, some variants can be more harmful than others, but all of them have one thing in common: a ransom that needs to be paid. Here we have seven of the most common types of malware:

  1. Lockers – Locker-ransomware is known for infecting your operating system to completely lock you out of your computer or device. This makes it impossible to access any of your files or applications. This type of ransomware is generally Android-based
  2. Crypto Malware – this type of ransomware is known to cause a lot of damage because it encrypts your files, folders and hard drives. One of the most well-known examples is the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack. It targeted thousands of systems around the world that were running on Windows and spread itself using internal corporate networks causing devastation wherever it was detected. The victims of this attack were asked to pay a ransom in Bitcoin to retrieve their data.
  3. Doxware – commonly known as leakware or extorsionware, threatens to publicly share your stolen information if you don’t pay them a ransom. This type of malware can cause a lot of panic because people store a lot of sensitive information on their devices, such as personal photos.
  4. Scareware – this is a fake software that basically acts like an antivirus or cleaning tool. You have probably seen pop-ups that say that they’ve detected issues on your computer, demanding money to resolve the problems. There are types of scareware that lock your computer allowing you to access it after paying the ransom, and there are others that flood your screen with annoying alerts and pop-up messages.
  5. RaaS – also known as “Ransomware as a service” – this type of malware is hosted anonymously by a hacker. These cyber-criminals handle everything from distributing ransomware and collecting payments to managing decryptors.
  6. Ransomware on mobile devices – malware began infiltrating mobile devices on a large scale in 2014. Mobile ransomware often gets on your device via a malicious app and then the users get a message saying that the device has been locked due to illegal activity.
  7. Mac ransomware – KeRanger was the first ransomware that infiltrated macOS devices in 2016. This infected Apple devices through an app called Transmission, that encrypted the victim’s files after being launched.

Now that we know the types of ransomware, let’s see what you can do to prevent these attacks happening to you!

Use security software

We recommend using a full security suite that offers more than just antivirus features. These suites usually have built-in file checkers and features that help protect against malware.

Keep your security software up to date

New ransomware variants continue to appear, so having an up to date internet security software will help protect against future cyber attacks.

Keep your operating system and other installed software up to date

Software updates frequently include security patches as well for newly discovered security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by ransomware attackers.

Do not Automatically open email attachments

Some of the most frequently used ransomware delivery methods are emails. This is why we advise not opening emails and attachments from unfamiliar sources. Spam emails are notorious for hiding legitimate-looking links that actually contain malicious code. The malware the prevents you from accessing your data, holds that data hostage and demands a ransom.

Be careful with email attachments that advise you to enable macros to view their content

Once enabled, macro malware can infect multiple files. Unless you are absolutely sure that the email is genuine and from a trusted source, delete the email.

Use cloud service backups

The main goal of ransomware is to gain leverage over its victims by encrypting files and making them inaccessible. If the victim has backup copies on a cloud service, then the cybercriminals lose their advantage. The victims can restore their files using cloud backups once the infection has been cleaned up.

DO not pay the ransom

paying the ransom ransomwareRemember, you are dealing with criminals here. There is no guarantee of getting your files back after you pay them. Cybercriminals can ask you to pay them again and again, extorting money from you but never releasing your data.

To sum it all up

With these basic tips, you can minimize the chances of losing files/money to these ransomware attackers. With new types of ransomware variants appearing almost every month, it is also wise to consider using security suites to help protect your computer from being ransomware’s next target.