Ransomware is a type of malware from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim’s personal data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. While some simple ransomware may lock the system so that it is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion. It encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. In a properly implemented cryptoviral extortion attack, recovering the files without the decryption key is an intractable problem – and difficult to trace digital currencies such as paysafecard or Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that are used for the ransoms, making tracing and prosecuting the perpetrators difficult.
Malicious software that uses encryption to hold data for ransom has become more prolific over the past few years. The purpose of this software is to extort money from victims in exchange for promises of restoring encrypted data. Like other computer viruses, it usually finds its way onto a device by exploiting a security hole in vulnerable software or by tricking somebody into installing it. Ransomware, as it is known, has previously targeted high-profile victims like hospitals, public schools, and police departments. Now it has found its way onto home computers.
You can unknowingly download ransomware onto a computer by opening an email attachment, clicking an ad, following a link, or even visiting a website that’s embedded with malware.
Once the code is loaded on a computer, it will lock access to the computer itself or data and files stored there. More menacing versions can encrypt files and folders on local drives, attached drives, and even networked computers.
Most of the time, you don’t know your computer has been infected. You usually discover it when you can no longer access your data, or you see computer messages letting you know about the attack and demanding ransom payments.
- Do not pay the ransom. It only encourages and funds these attackers. Even if the ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that you will be able to regain access to your files.
- Restore any impacted files from a known good backup. Restoration of your files from a backup is the fastest way to regain access to your data.
- Do not provide personal information when answering an email, unsolicited phone call, text message or instant message. Phishers will try to trick employees into installing malware or gain intelligence for attacks by claiming to be from IT. Be sure to contact your IT department if you or your coworkers receive suspicious calls.
- Use reputable antivirus software and a firewall. Maintaining a strong firewall and keeping your security software up to date are critical. It’s important to use antivirus software from a reputable company because of all the fake software out there.
- Do employ content scanning and filtering on your mail servers. Inbound emails should be scanned for known threats and should block any attachment types that could pose a threat.
- Do make sure that all systems and software are up to date with relevant patches. Exploit kits hosted on compromised websites are commonly used to spread malware. Regular patching of vulnerable software is necessary to help prevent infection.
- If traveling, alert your IT department beforehand, especially if you’re going to be using public wireless internet. Make sure you use a trustworthy Virtual Private Network (VPN) when accessing public Wi-Fi like Norton Secure VPN. (If you are employed and this applies).