Ransomware is a nasty type of online malware where a hacker obtains control of one’s computer or computer system, and encrypts the hard drives in an effort to block that person from using their computer, or from having the ability to retrieve their files until a ransom fee is paid. To an individual who isn’t technologically savvy or experienced in navigating through the internet, it can be a frightening scenario.
Ransomware doesn’t exactly come to mind immediately while browsing the internet, but the reality is it should be a topic we are all aware of and educated on. Why? Ransomware attacks are not only growing in numbers against consumers and businesses, they are also becoming more demanding with larger monetary requests and more sophisticated attack mechanisms. Two of the most common types of ransomware are known as Locky and Cerber, with Cerber becoming the most prevalent form of the two.
No Sign of Relief in the Near Future
The frequency of attacks also doesn’t seem to be getting any better either. A 2017 report by Kaspersky stated that between April 2016 and March 2017, the number of users who were affected by ransomware attacks raised by 11.4%. The firm’s 2016 report also stated that by the end of 2016, a business encountered a ransomware attack every 40 seconds.
Antivirus Software May Not Be Enough
Another key aspect to understand is that ransomware is not a virus, contrary to many beliefs. Similar to a virus, ransomware is a variation of malware. Malware is software that includes mechanisms designed to destroy the system it is installed onto. Unlike ransomware, a virus is a contiguous piece of code which has a direct impact on other software and operating systems once it’s running. They tend to harm computers by changing or deleting critical files which keep the computer functioning as normal. It enters a computer through an infected piece of software (malware), just as ransomware does. However unlike ransomware, the damage is difficult to undo, even if a ransom fee is paid. This difference is crucial to be aware of, since regularly used antivirus programs often don’t protect against other forms of malware like ransomware.
How You Can Protect Yourself
So how can users stay protected from ransomware attacks to begin with? There are a few preventative steps that internet users can take to reduce their risk of becoming a victim. Such measures refer to:
Using an antivirus program on your computer.
Installing a malware scanner and doing routine scans to check that there aren’t questionable files on your computer.
Installing an ad blocker onto your web browser to eliminate fake advertisements which in some cases download malware onto your computer.
Stay away from visiting websites with bizarre names and sensitive content.
While these reminders can significantly minimize your risk of an attack, they will not protect your data in the event that your computer becomes victim to a ransomware attack. For this, the best way to reduce the damages is to back up your computer on a routine basis to keep a copy of files, preferably on an external hard drive which is only connected to the computer while the backup takes place. Having a backup of your files may not save your computer, but it will save your important files.
Don’t forget about any external hard drives you create in this way. They can pose a security risk in and of themselves should they fall into the wrong hands. Keep them stored in a secure location away from roaming eyes. Eventually when they themselves have become old and need to be replaced, be sure to use a secure hard drive destruction service, as it is the only way to make the data on them irretrievable.
Keep your data protected at all times, and remain vigilant against cyber crime.