By Nate Tullis -Systems Administrator
Ransomware, it’s out there and more dangerous than ever. For those who may be wondering what ransomware is, it’s a type of malware that will try to encrypt just about any file it can touch, rendering the files unreadable without a specific decryption key. The developers of the malware will then demand a ransom, usually in the range of $200-$400, before they give you the decryption key.
Why has it been so successful for hackers and criminals? For one, it generally doesn’t require special privileges to install, it can run and begin encrypting files almost immediately upon execution. Second, ransomware can easily disguise itself in fraudulent emails and compromised websites, making it very easy to distribute across the Internet to millions of unsuspecting people. Lastly, we’re only human and we hate to lose files such as pictures, music and videos that are precious to us, so many ransomware victims end up paying the ransom, and in most cases they receive a decryption key, but not always. When ransomware developers receive ransom payments they naturally are encouraged to continue using it and further develop it so that it becomes harder for us to guard against it, so it’s very important that we do not pay these ransoms.
So how do we protect ourselves? First and foremost, the surefire way to beat ransomware is by backing up your files, every day. If your files fall victim to ransomware and you can simply restore them from backup then no serious harm has been done, although you will definitely need to clean your PC at that point before using it again. The easiest way to back up your files every day is by using one of the many cloud based services that do it for you automatically; some are even free up to a certain data amount (e.g. 5 GB). These backup services work by installing a small program on your PC that will first backup everything and then backup any new or changed files on a nightly basis. When you need to restore a file you can simply log onto an online service and download the back-up copies from there or through the program installed on the PC (make sure you restore files that are dated before the ransomware attack). Again, it’s also important to make sure you run malware removal programs after that to ensure your PC is clean. If you really want to be thorough you can even completely wipe your hard drive and start over with a new installation of Windows.
Aside from that, the best course of action is to scrutinize the validity of any e-mail you receive and any website URL you’re thinking of clicking because avoidance is key with any type of malware. Anti-malware programs are also important, and many will help to stop ransomware before it can execute, but they will never be 100% effective, so file backups and malware avoidance are still your best bets. It’s also important to make sure you’re installing security updates on your PC on a regular basis. If you do all of these things, you should be well-guarded against not only ransomware, but malware in general.
With October being Cybersecurity Awareness Month, let’s all be diligent in sharing tips with our friends and family on how to keep our data safe!