Ransomware is a major Internet security challenge. This article explains how hackers use it to extort money from their victims and how we can protect ourselves.
What is ransomware?
In a nutshell, ransomware is malicious software that is installed on your PC through the typical virus installation methods:
- Through hacked or malicious web-sites via browser flaws or social engineering;
- Through emails with malicious attachments or links to malicious sites;
- Through compromised downloads, such as “free” software or videos/images hosted on suspicious web sites;
- Via the local network from other infected computers through operating system flaws;
- From compromised USB keys or CDs.
The difference between ransomware and other viruses is that, once established, your files become encrypted and inaccessible and held for ransom by an anonymous hacker. This applies to network as well as local files. Essentially any files that your local PC has access to can be compromised.
What can I do if I become a victim?
There are really only four choices available once you become infected with ransomware, in order of preference:
- Recover from backup – this is the preferred recovery method;
- Attempt to decrypt your files using tools and services available online;
- Start over and live without the encrypted files;
- Pay the ransom.
If you think of ransomware as a nasty virus or a hard drive crash that destroys all of your files, you’re on the right track. The positive thing (if you look at it positively) about ransomware is that the anonymous hacker offers the fourth option to recover your files: pay the ransom. Normally when your files are destroyed, this isn’t an option.
How can I protect myself?
As scary as ransomware can appear, protection is not that difficult. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Backups – backups have always been the best way to protect electronic data. If you’re not doing online and local backups of all your data, what are you waiting for? Talk to us.
- Updates – your applications, antivirus and operating system software should always be kept up to date. Many viruses succeed by exploiting flaws that have been discovered and patched long ago.
- Practice safe web-browsing – stay away from the sketchy sites and do not download “free” software.
- Training – we offer security awareness training and a free phishing test to determine your organization’s vulnerability to ransomware. The essence of the training is this:
Never trust unexpected attachments or links in email, even if you know the sender. This is worth repeating and in all caps: NEVER TRUST UNEXPECTED ATTACHMENTS OR LINKS IN EMAIL, EVEN IF YOU KNOW THE SENDER