Ransomware is becoming a much deeper problem in recent years than ever before. Attacks are infiltrating a startling array of organizations, including education, government, manufacturing, security, and other technology sectors. Ransomware—the encryption and ransoming of your data by an outside entity—is a significant concern for any business and a massive cybersecurity threat. In the first few months of 2021 alone, there have been over 100 documented ransomware attacks. So, protecting yourself from ransomware is of the utmost importance. A solid base of protection begins with understanding the problem, followed by implementing long-term solutions that can prevent future attacks.
Definition of Ransomware
You’ve seen the name pop up more often in recent years. A pervasive and dangerous form of malware known as Ransomware is becoming quite the menace in modern industry. But what is ransomware, exactly? The short answer is it’s a type of malware that infects your system, encrypts your files, then demands payment of some sort to decrypt and release the files back to you. Ransomware scans both your local and network storage devices in its search for possible files on which to inflict its encryption attack. Ransomware’s voracious appetite for files doesn’t stop at any single file format. It’ll attack PDFs, JPG’s, GIFs, your Microsoft Office files (.xls, .doc, .ppt, and others), and even audio or video files. Anything of value can be a potential target. It really depends on what type of ransomware infects your system and how important the targeted files may be to the organization. Since the idea behind a ransomware attack is to get you to pay for the decryption of your compromised files, the attack needs to target something that matters.
If they target your old vacation photos instead of something like the Accounts Payable spreadsheets or payroll register, their attack is more likely to result in failure. There are multiple types of ransomware, including symmetric, client-side, server-side, and hybrid encryption—all of which wreak havoc on a system in various, insidious ways.
How Systems Become Infected
You may be wondering how a system becomes infected with ransomware in the first place. Usually, it happens via phishing emails, malicious attachments, or the dreaded drive-by download. Phishing—where emails seem as if they come from a legitimate or reputable source but are actually veiled attempts to steal your information—can be an effective means of transmission for any type of malware to unwitting users. That’s why it’s always a good idea to scan and assess any attachments for viruses or malware prior to downloading them. Bolstering your email security or installing an antivirus might help reduce these risks, but sometimes ransomware can infect a device in other ways. If you visit an infected website, there’s always the possibility of malware infecting your computer.
What To Do If You Fall Victim To A Ransomware Attack
Recovering from a ransomware attack can be a lengthy, complex process. First, try to figure out how many computers or devices on your network were affected. Then, isolate the devices so the infection cannot spread. You may need to lock down the network and halt sharing until the ransomware infection is purged. Files with encrypted file extensions (like .cry, .zepto, etc) are sure sign of infection. After you’ve verified an attack took place, it’s prudent to track the source of the attack and work on damage control. There are some free decryption tools that can help, but the best defense is implementing prevention procedures so an attack can’t happen in the first place.
Preventing Future Ransomware Attacks
Mitigating and reacting to the damage caused by ransomware can be a hassle. The best way to safeguard yourself against this insidious threat is to take steps toward prevention, with one of the most effective preventative measures being to create back-ups of your most critical files. Here are a few other useful preventative measures you can do every day, often without even thinking about it:
- Avoid clicking on unsafe or suspect links
- Don’t give away your personal information unless the source is trusted
- Don’t open suspicious email attachments
- Stay away from suspicious or dubious websites
- Never plug in/use unknown external devices, including USB sticks and SD cards
- Perform regular updates on your system, antivirus, and other security software
- Consider using a VPN
- Don’t download things willingly from suspicious sites
- Always scan attachments or downloads for malware
Doing everything in your power to prevent ransomware from affecting your system will go a long way toward keeping it (and its associated risks) at bay.
The Risk Of Ransomware In The Future
Moving into the future, the threat of ransomware looms large. Companies and personnel need to be exceedingly careful as ransomware threats continue to evolve and grow. Hospitals are becoming prime targets for ransomware, largely because they can be an access point to large amounts of cash and insurance. It can also be deadly; if a hospital’s infrastructure goes down, it can interrupt care and put lives in danger. As attackers grow more bold and threats become larger, it reinforces the importance of taking preventative measures and protecting yourself from ransomware in every way possible.