Ransomware: What it does

Ransomware attacks don’t seem to have come under the spotlight to the same extend as comparative forms of cybercrime, such as socially engineered malware and password phishing attacks. However, ransomware is not to be taken lightly. A single attack will put your data in jeopardy and, by extension, your business.

The brains behind ransomware schemes are intelligent and manipulating. Using malware based cryptoviral extortion technologies, miscreants encrypt the victim’s files and data. In order to access data, the victim will need to pay a ransom on demand. Some ransomware practitioners are so self-assured that they establish online call centres to handle payments and deal with questions.

Ransomware: What it is

So what is ransomware and how does it work? Put simply, ransomware is not dissimilar to a kidnapping; the victim being your computer and not a person. As mentioned, ransomware is essentially malware that encrypts your data and prevents you from using software or your entire PC or Mac. These all remain inaccessible and until you pay a specified ransom, usually through the Bitcoin digital currency platform. Even more frightening is the warning that if you don’t pay up in a set time, the ransom increases. Moreover, there is often a notice stating the time remaining until all your data and files will be lost. Some individuals hit the panic button and succumb to the threat.

Not the Police

The ransomware M.O. is intimidating, even frightening. As if being locked out of your data, files and PC, together with the Bitcoin ransom and the Doomsday clock countdown isn’t enough, the perpetrators often pose as law enforcement agencies. A screen could appear featuring an image of a police officer together with the accompanying Metropolitan Police logo. The claim is made that you yourself have committed cybercrime by accessing illegal websites. So either you pay a fine, or face prosecution and potential prison time. All in all, very convincing.

Ransomware: Who’s at Risk?

Public safety has been one of the most targeted sectors by ransomware in the United States. Police department data has been hijacked along with hospitals on the East and West coasts. But ransomware has a global dimension. The May 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack was worldwide, where an estimated 230,000 computers in 150 countries were infected. Targets included the NHS in the UK and Telefonica in Spain. Ransom was set at £250 to be paid within three days. An extension of seven days could be granted with victims needing to cough up £500 in Bitcoin currency.

Don’t Pay the Ransom

Ransomware is also particularly sly and covert in that system backups may not be enough to elude attacks. So, to keep your data safe and secure, it’s best to have a current knowledge of potential threats in the cyber world. Here are five simple steps that you can implement and protect your computers from ransomware:

1. Keep your antivirus and malware software up to date.

2. Educate your staff. People are largely responsible for the loss or inaccessibility of data. By unintentionally opening malicious emails, carelessly clicking on links or visiting dangerous sites, employees can put your entire network at risk of a major security breach. Regularly send your staff emails about good practice when accessing the web. Explain the consequences of a cybercrime attack. If your company goes, so do jobs.

3. Backing up data, files and servers is fundamental to restore your network and systems should you fall victim to a ransomware attack. Backups are best held off-site, remotely maintained by your IT team or outsourced Managed Service Providers. While backup is not taking place, all backup files must be detached from your network. Failing to do this means that backups themselves will be corrupted.

4. Your software and applications need to be up to date. Ensure that the latest security patches are installed to reduce vulnerability to any cyber-attack.

5. Use pop-up blockers such as AdwCleaner or Poper Blocker. These extensions block annoying pop-ups and protect against browser hijacks, malware, adware and ransomware.

You don’t leave your front door unlocked at night, do you? By the same token, install some secure locks on your data. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that even the stealthiest cybercriminal can’t break in.