Ransomware: What it is and what you can do to protect yourself

ransomare protectionAs more of our daily lives are spent on computers and our sensitive information reliant on the security of the digital world, the threat of cybercrime has only grown exponentially. This is not only due to more criminals utilizing the internet to carry out attacks, but also an increase in the sophistication and complexity of the tools used. This article will outline one of the latest and most pernicious of these tools, Ransomware, and what you can do to protect yourself against an attack.

What is Ransomware?

In simple terms, ransomware is a complex form of malware that will block a victim’s access to their data, in exchange for a money ransom.

There are two common types of ransomware:

Engineered to block access to operating system files, encrypting ransomware utilizes sophisticated encryption algorithms to block access to important system data, demanding payment for a key that will decrypt the victim’s data. Common forms of this are Locky, Cryptowall, CryptoLocker and others.

The other type is locker ransomware, which functions by locking a victim out of their operating system entirely. In this case, the desktop, applications or any files are impossible to access. While the files on the computer are not encrypted, a ransom is still demanded in order for the infected system to be unlocked. A common example of this is Winlocker.

Why is Ransomware so dangerous?

While many other forms of malware and cryptoware tools have existed before, ransomware has some unique components that makes it different from other malware.

  • Ransomware utilizes unbreakable encryption, which makes decrypting affected files impossible or nearly impossible.
  • It can encrypt just about any type of file, whether it be audio, video, documents or pictures.
  • It has the ability to scramble file names, making it difficult if not impossible to know exactly what was affected.
  • It can change the extensions of your filenames, making them function in unpredictable ways or not functional at all.
  • Ransoms attached to ransomware typically have time-limits. Exceeding the deadline often means the ransom amount will increase, or even that the data will be destroyed altogether.

What you can do to protect yourself.

While ransomware is a powerful and effective form of cybercrime, there are equally practical and effective steps you can take to protecting yourself from a potential attack. Here are 15 quick tips for staying protected against Ransomware:

  1. Only store sensitive data on your personal computer.
  2. Have two backups of your important data: one on an external hard drive and another on cloud-based storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)
  3. Do not have Google Drive, Dropbox or other cloud-based storage applications on your computer turned on as a default. Turn them on only once a day in order to sync your data, then turn off after finishing syncing.
  4. Keep your operating system and regularly used software up to date and with the most current security updates installed.
  5. Use a guest account with restricted privileges for regular, daily computer use. Only use an administrator account when necessary.
  6. Have macros in the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) turned off.
  7. Remove the Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java and Silverlight plugins from your web browser. If they are absolutely essential, set your browser to check when you want to activate them as needed.
  8. Adjust your browsers’ privacy and security settings for maximum protection.
  9. Remove outdated add-ons and plugins from your web browser. Only keep the ones you regularly use and keep them up to date.
  10. Utilize an ad blocker to combat potentially malignant ads.
  11. Never open spam or email from unknown/suspicious senders.
  12. Never download attachments from spam or otherwise suspicious emails.
  13. Never click links in spam or otherwise suspicious emails.
  14. Utilize a reputable, paid antivirus program with automatic update functionality and real-time scanning.
  15. Utilize traffic filters for anti-ransomware protection.

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