What is Ransomware? (and what can you do to keep safe)

Posted by Tom Burt on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 @ 5:56pm

You may have heard of computer viruses before, and ransomware is simply a very sinister computer virus. Specifically designed to take advantage of individuals and business owners, ransomware acts to block access to some or all of your computer systems or data, refusing to release it until a large sum of money is paid. Many people have fallen victim to ransomware, and have been forced to pay large sums to regain control of their technology systems and data assets.

What does ransomware do to your computer?

Typical ransomware will pop up and override every typical system your computer will run. Instead of standard operating, you’ll encounter a message demanding you call a number, follow instructions, or otherwise provide money to regain access to your own computer.

In some cases, a skilled IT professional might be able to help you release your computer from the grips of a ransomware attack. But in many cases, there may be no way to stop the attack without giving in to those who have locked down your computer system.

Where does ransomware come from?

Ransomware is developed and deployed by people looking to take advantage of individuals and businesses, who, simply put, have something to lose. They look for opportunities to infect computers, taking control of personal information and literally asking for ransom before they will release it.

Many people are not technologically savvy, but still use computers every day to conduct sensitive personal and business transactions. This, combined with a lapse in security systems, makes individuals and businesses vulnerable to an attack.

Why do people use ransomware attacks?

These criminals, hoping to make money by targeting susceptible people, deploy ransomware in the hopes of extorting money. Operating online makes these attempts harder to trace, and ransomware has become a replacement for certain forms of street crime as a way to steal money.

What will ransomware do to my computer?

In some cases, people have paid off those asking for ransom and regained access to their computer with no further issues. This is considered a fairly “lucky” scenario for those infected with unstoppable ransomware. But that said, all of their sensitive information has become compromised, and there is no telling if it has been duplicated or if it will be used for nefarious purposes.

Because the effects of ransomware are so devastating, it is best to take steps to prevent the problem before it occurs.

How can I tell if I’ve been infected with ransomware?

If someone is looking to extort money from your business through ransomware, they will make their presence known to you. That said, it is possible that ransomware will be installed ahead of time, giving extorters the chance to take a look at your system and learn enough to even call you by phone to demand money. Once extorters are ready to ask, you’ll generally see an online message that prompts further action, generally in the form of receiving instructions to hand over cash.  

How can I resolve ransomware issues safely?

As with most technical issues, it is better to be proactive than try to attempt to resolve the problem after a disaster has struck. If you have fallen victim to a ransomware attack, you may be able to enlist a professional to help you release your data, block the attack, and regain access to your assets.

That said, some people who fall victim to complicated schemes have seen no choice other than to pay up, and even after partying with money, have simply faced demands for more. It is not recommended that you pay out when under a ransomware attack.

How can businesses prevent a ransomware attack?

When it comes to ransomware, the best defense is a good offense. Protecting yourself and your data requires you to perform an information technology audit and put systems in place to ensure your data can’t be compromised by a single attempt at ransomware.

Having security in place, including anti-virus, monitoring software, and backups for all your critical data is an excellent start. Having specific training for all staff on how to spot suspicious files, and how to ensure they protect critical company data when using new devices is key. There are also many companies that will offer services in protecting your business if you have a lot of valuable data to collect.

Even with many security systems in place, you still need to be sure that you and every member of your team is careful when it comes to protecting your data and your privacy. Instruct your staff on how to stay aware of phishing schemes, avoiding opening attachments, and preventing divulging critical information over the phone. Implement strict policies for shared computers and accessing company data in public.

How can individuals prevent a ransomware attack?

Businesses are most at risk of ransomware attacks, but personal computers are also at risk. Be sure to install anti-virus software on your home computer, and to be very careful about the emails you open, files you download, and websites you visit.

Be cautious in sharing any personal information online, and be sure to scan all emails, even from addresses you recognize, for suspicious content and attachments.

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