Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware that restricts access to computer files until a ransom is paid. Ransomware can be powered by malicious bots, artificial intelligence, or human cybercriminals. It often uses social engineering to trick users into opening attachments or links in emails and other messages. An infected computer can be taken over by ransomware, which makes it impossible to shut it down or log out of it. It can also display screens asking for payment in order to unblock files or return functionality to the computer. It may also lock screen images, record keystrokes, and take screenshots as an additional way to monitor user activity and increase the fear of consequences of not paying.
Not all ransomware is created equal. Some variants lock your PC and demand payment to get access back while others use more advanced techniques that make it almost impossible to reverse without backups or specific tools like encrypting your files with a private key held by the attacker. Here’s what you need to know about this growing threat:
How does ransomware work?
Ransomware begins with an email or link that appears to come from a legitimate source but actually contains malicious code that infects a computer or network. The malware may be disguised as a PDF file or Word document that appears to come from a colleague or trusted source or be hidden in a link to a malicious website or file download.
Ransomware can spread through an organization when employees open infected files on a network, or when it travels freely on the Internet. Some ransomware travels as an email attachment, while other variants use malicious websites or cloud services to get into your system. It is also possible for ransomware to be installed by malicious software on your device that monitors your activities and sends data to cybercriminals' servers.
Who’s most at risk for ransomware attacks?
Anyone can be a victim, but some are more susceptible to attacks than others. If you’re looking to lower your risk of ransomware, consider the following: Make sure your computer is up-to-date - Updating your computer is the best way to defend against malware. Make sure you schedule automatic updates and download them as soon as they’re available.
You should also update any software that connects to the Internet, like your wireless router. Protect your data - If you have sensitive files on your computer, make sure you have a backup you can use. That way, you won’t be left without critical files if your computer gets infected and you’re unable to pay the ransom. Keep tabs on your network - If you use a network at work, at home or in a coffee shop, make sure you keep tabs on it. Check for unauthorized devices and check your network regularly for signs of unusual activity.
Ransomware protection tips and best practices
Invest in security and backup - No matter how careful you are, you can’t prevent infections 100% of the time. By investing in cybersecurity, backups, and other security measures, you can minimize the damage caused by ransomware and other malicious software. Keep your software up to date - For protection against the latest ransomware variants, make sure your antivirus software, operating system, and other critical software are updated.
Keep your operating systems patched - Make sure your devices have the latest patches and updates installed to guard against ransomware that could otherwise be prevented. Enable two-factor authentication. This extra layer of security can help prevent attackers from remotely logging into your accounts and networks if they somehow gain login credentials.
Moreover, train your staff - Ensure your employees know the dangers associated with clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown senders. Employ advanced cybersecurity tools - Use tools like cloud-based security that can detect network anomalies, identify unknown threats, and help prevent infections from spreading through your systems. Keep your data backed up - You don’t have to pay the ransom if you have a backup of your data.
Ransomware is a growing threat that impacts everyone from individuals to businesses. No one is safe from this malicious software, and there are ways you can defend against it. Start by investing in cybersecurity tools, keeping your software up to date, and having regular data backups. If you do fall victim to ransomware, make sure you report it to law enforcement and your internet service provider.