As 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. If not vigilant to the threat of these online threats, anyone’s information, privacy and even safety is at risk. This article will outline why ransomware is so dangerous 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.
- Ransomware has the ability to scramble file names, making it difficult if not impossible to know exactly what was affected.
- This dangerous software 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.
Which antivirus can remove ransomware?
The short answer is: it widely varies. Luckily, there are many reliable options regarding antivirus software that can remove ransomware. These softwares protect un-compromised data, prevent future attacks, and remove existing malware. While data and information is of utmost value, there are unfortunately limited options for already compromised files. This is due to a number of reasons, mostly boiling down to the fact that each family of encryption requires a unique decryption file. The difficulty to recover existing ransomware has proven to be a contributing reason as to why it is so dangerous. Nonetheless, with recently developed technology and a continually expanding understanding of ransomware and how it operates, many antivirus softwares have the capability to remove ransomware.
Can Windows Defender remove ransomware?
Yes. Windows Defender is one of the antivirus softwares that can remove most every malware, ransomware included. Better yet, Windows Defender comes pre-installed in Microsoft PC’s, and is of no cost to customers. Though there is an ever expanding list of malware to be vigilant of, Windows Defender does an excellent job of both removing existing malware and taking preventive measures against potential threats. To best take advantage of this free service though, it’s important to continually update your Windows Defender security system and to keep a close eye on any potential ransomware threats.
Can McAfee remove ransomware?
Also yes. McAfee, another free software that is available to the public, has the capacity to support the decryption needed to obtain your compromised files. In fact, McAfee offers a specialized antivirus software that is specifically aimed at ransomware. This specialized ransomware protection claims to not only recover encrypted computer files, but also recover apps, databases, and any other important component that has been infected. By regularly updating available software capabilities, McAfee is able to offer a reliable solution if you find ransomware on your computer and is worth trying out.
What happens if you get Ransomware?
If you suspect that ransomware has compromised your computer, it is important to stay calm and consider your many options. Ransomware is likely hiding in plain site. By disguising as an email attachment, message from a known contact, or alert from a verified agency like the FBI or IRS, ransomware is a common and expanding issue that many have had to deal with. Many ransomware attackers tend to send false messages pretending to be the FBI or police, claiming that the compromised computer contain illegal files. Thus why it is important not to be panic, but rather act logically.
As directed by nearly every trusted source, do NOT pay the ransom. Not only are you unlikely to recover your files regardless, but paying the ransom can actually cause others to go after you and your information. When malware in the form of ransomware overtakes your files, they will likely be immediately encrypted. What many cyber criminals do is copy your files, encrypt the new copy and immediately delete the original data. They then proceed to ask for a monetary compensation to obtain the unique decryption key and to reclaim your files.
What makes ransomware so successful?
If you have been the target of ransomware, you are not alone!
There are many reasons why ransomware is so dangerous yet so successful. Namely, it comes down to the newfound sophistication of organized cyber attacks. Despite increasing awareness of these attacks, cyber criminal’s ability to quickly infiltrate the victim’s computer and immediately encrypt their files makes them hard to stop.
Not only that, but the countless encryption families that exist make it difficult for decryption softwares to create an effective antivirus that works universally. The targets of these attacks may also be a reason as to why these criminals are able to be successful. With entities that have an abundance of sensitive information at hand (hospitals, large businesses, etc.), there is a stronger desperation to get their data back.
Can ransomware steal data?
Not only are victim’s at risk of having their data encrypted, but there is also a massive threat that victim’s data may be stolen. Data is invaluable. Stolen information is just another way that crooks are able to leverage their power over the organizations they victimize. Organizations that have large amounts of sensitive data are particularly at risk. Financial offices, hospitals and databases top the list. Cyber crooks recognize that this makes their victim’s even more vulnerable and much more likely to pay. There is much speculation that even if ransomware criminals don’t overtly steal data, they are most likely stealing information covertly.
Is Ransomware a virus?
No– ransomware is not considered to be a virus. The nature of the attack- involving the scrambling of existing files- is not that of a virus. Though both can be malicious, ransomware is considered especially damaging and dangerous. While viruses work by slyly spreading from computer to computer, ransomware works by presenting itself as a form of online extortion. The goals of viruses are different than those of ransomware. Instead of targeting operational issues, ransomware criminals are looking for a monetary gain. Nonetheless, the havoc of both a virus and ransomware can cause long lasting internal damage and are best avoided.
How quickly does Ransomware spread?
The answer may be discouraging.
Ransomware can spread almost instantly. This dangerous malware holds the ability to completely encrypt your files in mere seconds. But just because hackers have the ability to encrypt your data so quickly doesn’t always mean that they will.
Some ransomware criminals opt not to attack right away, but rather they choose to wait until they are in a position to compromise as much of your private information as possible. This strategy causes even further damage. Victim’s may have no idea that ransomware is even on their computer and continue to carry on their work as normal. This is why it’s important to regularly check your computer for ransomware and have a plan in place in the event that this malware is detected. The speed of which information is able to be compromised is a large contributor as to why many are stuck with the difficult dilemma: abandon the files or pay the ransom.
Does Ransomware need admin rights?
Admin rights refers to the permissions needed from the owner’s computer for hackers to begin encrypting files. A reason why ransomware is regarded as one of the most dangerous forms of malware is that it usually does not require admin rights in order to start compromising your files. This means that cyber criminals are able to bypass many safeguards and can easily make files, apps, databases etc. unreadable.
Can Ransomware spread through Wifi?
Ransomware most commonly spreads through phishing emails and dangerous spam. However, wifi is another threat to cyber security. The prevalence of network attacks are steadily increasing as attackers realize the opportunity to capture many people’s data at once. Hackers can now focus on bringing down not only a single user and their files, but also entire networks. Experts recommend to only connect to Wifi networks that you know are secure. By refraining from joining networks with unknown security, you can protect your data from both ransomware and other malware.
Why do ransomware attacks keep happening?
There is no simple answer to this. In reality, there are many outdated networks with little to no protection. These allow ransomware criminals to easily infiltrate and encrypt your important files.
There is a reason why ransomware is one of the largest cyber threats to modern businesses. These cyber attacks are effective.
Many users fail to take proper precautionary measures against ransomware and panic once they realize that they have been compromised. Once this occurs, many end up paying the ransom- and most of the time don’t even receive the lost files! This further encourages attackers to spread this malicious malware.
Where do most ransomware attacks come from?
Most ransomware attacks come from an unsuspecting place. A file sent from a friend. A message from a trusted source. A Wifi network. The consequences of these seemingly innocent sources can develop into a major headache. There is not just one ransomware. Rather, there are hundreds of different sources of ransomware that all have largely the same goal- to take your money.
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:
- Only store sensitive data on your personal computer.
- Have two backups of your important data: one on an external hard drive and another on cloud-based storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)
- 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, and then turn off after finishing syncing.
- Keep your operating system and regularly used software up to date and with the most current security updates installed.
- Use a guest account with restricted privileges for regular, daily computer use. Only use an administrator account when necessary.
- Have macros in the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) turned off.
- 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.
- Adjust your browsers’ privacy and security settings for maximum protection.
- Remove outdated add-ons and plugins from your web browser. Only keep the ones you regularly use and keep them up to date.
- Utilize an ad blocker to combat potentially malignant ads.
- Never open spam or email from unknown/suspicious senders.
- Immediately delete any downloaded attachments from spam or otherwise suspicious emails.
- Refrain from clicking links in spam or otherwise suspicious emails.
- Utilize a reputable, paid antivirus program with automatic update functionality and real-time scanning.
- Utilize traffic filters for anti-ransomware protection.
- Get additional training on how to protect yourself online.
If you suspect that your personal computer or files has been compromised by ransomware, just know that you are not alone. Ransomware infects a new interface as frequently as every 11 seconds.
Rather, remember not to pay the ransom and to look into reliable antivirus software.
The best way to avoid ransomware? To take preventative measures. Don’t wait- protect yourself and your information from dangerous ransomware!
Angelo has been involved in the creative IT world for over 20 years. He built his first website back in 1998 using Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop. He expanded his knowledge and expertise by learning a wider range of programming skills, such as HTML/CSS, Flash ActionScript and XML.
Angelo completed formal training with the CIW (Certified Internet Webmasters) program in Sydney Australia, learning the core fundamentals of computer networking and how it relates to the infrastructure of the world wide web.
Apart from running Sunlight Media, Angelo enjoys writing informative content related to web & app development, digital marketing and other tech related topics.