Understanding and Preventing Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is quickly becoming one of the largest threats to modern technology. While criminals have been using the malware to ransom computer data since 2012, large scale attacks are becoming far too common.

One recent ransomware attack using WannaCrypt malware didn’t just affect users who clicked on a suspicious email link. This sneaky virus infected over 230,000 computers, compromising data from large corporations. Even the Russian Interior Ministry and British National Health Service had data ransomed in the wide-scale cyberattack. It moved quickly, with computers being affected worldwide in just a few hours.

WannaCrypt, also referred to as WannaCry, taught us all the importance of cybersecurity and taking preventative measures against ransomware. Use this guide to learn more about ransomware so that you can protect yourself and your data!

The Threat Doesn’t Stop with WannaCry Ransomware

The WannaCry attacks were only the most recent case of ransomware in the news. Several varieties of ransomware affect computers every day. Other common varieties of ransomware include CryptoWall, TorrentLocker, CryptoLocker, and Reveton. Each variety affects the computer a little differently, but the end result is the same: pay to have your data decrypted.

With ransoms averaging about $300 each, a ransomware infection can be a very costly issue to fix. Many individuals and companies cannot afford to pay criminals to restore their computers, especially if they have multiple computers being affected at the same time. For example, one Hollywood hospital paid $17,000 in bitcoins to have their computers decrypted as quickly as possible.

Depending on your line of work, ransomware can mean the complete destruction of your business in just a few hours. Client records, sensitive accounting information, company memos, and other information is gone within moments of infection. While this data is usully backed up using cloud storage, not paying and being unable to restore factory settings can lead to even bigger losses.

The threat of ransomware doesn’t just affect large companies. Hackers show little to no discretion when spreading their malware. In the case of WannaCry, 16 hospitals had to partially shut down operations in order to deal with the attacks. Any company that uses a computer can be affected at almost any time.

What is Ransomware

All ransomware behaves in a similar manner. A message will appear on the screen that tells the user all of their data has been encrypted and in order to retrieve their data, the user must pay the hacker a ransom.

In the WannaCry example, users are greeted with a message stating “Ooops, your files have been encrypted!” along with instructions stating to pay to recover any files affected by the encryptions. The files are automatically deleted after the 7-day mark. The software also doubles the price after the 3-day mark. Unless you are using Windows Safe Mode, the entire computer will be on lockdown, except for making a payment.

Other variants of ransomware are slightly different. Some disguise themselves as messages from government agencies, accusing the user of illegal activity. Others will demand different forms of untraceable payments, such as Money Packs or iTunes gift cards.

How to Protect Against Cybersecurity Attacks

Ransomware and other malware can be partially avoided. The more preventative measures you take, the more likely the data is going to be recovered.

Do everything on this list:

    • Backup your computer data on a regular basis to cloud storage.
    • Save important files to a cloud and to an external storage device.
    • Install a firewall and other security features to make Internet browsing safer.
    • Invest in a quality virus scanner and use it once per week.
    • Delete suspicious emails.
    • Don’t download files from unknown sources.
    • Update Windows on a regular basis.

People should also consider hiring a technical consultant, especially if their computers contain sensitive or irreplaceable information. They will be able to identify flaws in your current security system, showing you which preventative measures to take and the most efficient ways to achieve your goals.

An experienced consultant can also help victims of ransomware attacks. While ransomware messages are very threatening, some can be eliminated from the computer without causing damage to the data. Repairing the device and getting rid of the malware is a much better idea than paying the hacker.

Ransomware can be a complex, scary subject to discuss. To protect or restore your computer, reach out to a local consultant today.