Ransomware 101 - What Is Ransomware?

By Nadia Kovacs

Ransomware is a type of malware that will essentially hold files “hostage” on a computer using encryption. Encryption converts files into another format. It’s like a secret code that can only be decoded by a specific key. The purpose of ransomware is to extort money from the targets with the promise of restoring the data after payment is made.

Once the ransomware is installed, it displays a message, usually appearing to come from a government agency, stating that illegal content has been found on the device, and that it is now locked. The user is given a specific dollar amount to pay as a “fine” and a timeframe in which to pay.  The scammer then requests that the payment be made with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or MoneyPak, due to the anonymity of these payment systems. If the user does not pay, the cybercriminal will destroy the decryption key and the users’ data will be gone forever. However, there is NO guarantee that you will get your data back if you do pay the ransom fee.

How Can I Protect Myself?
The best protection against this threat is to be proactive in your own cyber defense. Since this particular malware is so complicated in nature, it is recommended that you use multiple layers of protection against this threat.

1. Don’t Pay The Ransom
It may seem like the easy way out, but there’s no guarantee that you will actually get your files back if you pay. At the very least, you’re just helping fund the criminals for their next attack.

2. Update Early, Update Often
Whenever you receive a notification on your computer that there are new software updates available- do it now! These will patch any newly discovered security vulnerabilities.

3. Back It Up Or Lose It All
The best way to recover compromised or damaged data is by doing regular, thorough backups. Yes, it is a cumbersome task, but imagine how much worse it would be if your computer became locked up with ransomware?

4. Don’t Click on Attachments in Email
There are a lot of different gangs running ransomware scams, who use different ways to try and infect you.  One of the most popular is using spam.  The email could be saying there was a package for you that couldn’t be delivered.  Or a cool screensaver that you should install.  Whatever the con, the bad guys want you to click on an attachment to install the malware. Don’t do it.  Just don’t click.

5. Do Use Security Software
If you have a friend who is a security expert, that spends 24/7 keeping up on all the latest malware threats and watches over your shoulder whenever you are on your computer, you’ll be pretty safe on the internet.  Otherwise, get good security software to do that.  Make sure it is more than Anti-Virus.  We recommend Norton security solutions, provided by Xfinity.

Nadia Kovacs

Read more about: Prevention , PC security
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