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How to protect against Ransomware and what to do if you are a victim

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malicious malware (or software) designed to block a user from being able to access their computer system or certain files. The cyber-criminal will demand that you pay a ransom fee in order for them to release your computer system or files. This is now usually requested in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. If you refuse to pay, they say they will erase everything they have.

There are a few different forms of ransomware:

  • Locker ransomware encrypts the whole hard drive of the computer or device, locking the user out of the system entirely.

  • Crypto ransomware encrypts certain individual files on the computer. These could be word documents, PDF files of images.

  • Scareware is actually a fake software that claims to have found problems with your computer and demands that you pay the fee to fix them. Some scareware will lock you out of your computer like locker ransomware, and some will flood your screen with adverts and annoying pop-ups.

  • Leakware threatens to publish all of your data online if don’t pay the fee.


Who is at risk of Ransomware?

Ransomware on a computer

The short answer is anyone with an electronic device can become a victim to a ransomware scam. This includes computers, laptops, tablets and phones.

But as newer operating systems try to constantly patch possible security risks, it is easier to target older operating systems like Windows XP. People who use up-to-date operating systems are at less risk.


How is Ransomware Distributed?

Ransomware is usually delivered to the victim through methods like phishing emails and social media messages. The criminal will insert an attachment that contains the ransomware, or alternatively a link to a malicious webpage that is hosting the malware. Some criminals may even pay for advertising space of popular website like Facebook which will take you to the infected website.

They can also use certain tools that look for holes in the security of software and operating systems that haven’t been updated. Once they find the vulnerable spot, they are able to deliver the ransomware to the device.


How Can I Protect Myself from Ransomware?

Ransomware is a very complicated piece of malware which is constantly developed by cyber criminals. Because of this, it is recommended that you are very proactive in your approach to cyber security and you use multiple layers of protection.
  1. Back Up your Files: The most important thing is to back up any important or valuable files and data you have stored on your computer. This should be completely separated, perhaps on an external hard drive, which can’t be accessed by the hacker. This way, you won’t have to panic if your device becomes infected by ransomware as you can restore your files once the problem has been resolved.

  2. Keep your Operating System Updated: A lot of ransomware attacks are successful because they are able to attack old operating systems which aren’t updated with the latest security. Software updates will patch up any newly found vulnerabilities in the security systems which could be exposed by hackers.

  3. Keep your Anti-Virus Software Updated: It is absolutely vital to have an anti-virus/security software on your device to protect yourself against all types of malware, not just ransomware. You should run regular scans of your device to detect anything malicious and keep it as up-to-date as possible at all times.

  4. Watch Out for Phishing: As I said previously, a lot of hackers your phishing emails and messages to distribute their ransomware by including malicious links and attachments. Be very wary of unexpected emails from companies or people you don’t know, especially if they contain attachments.

What Can I Do if My Device Has Been Infected with Ransomware?

  1. Do NOT Pay the Ransom Fee: If you pay the demanded ransom fee, you will just be feeding into the criminal’s hands. There is no guarantee that your computer or files will be restored if you pay. These criminals have also been known to re-target victims who have paid the fee as they know they are a good bet.

  2. Download a Security System: If you haven’t been locked out of your device and you can still use it, you will need to run a security software to scan and erase the malware. This shouldn’t be too difficult to do as most software is very advanced now. If you have been completely locked out of your device, then you might need to restore the whole system or run a security scan from a CD or USB drive.


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