Understanding Ransomware And How It Can Affect You
Ransomware is a type of malware that restricts access to the computer system that it has infected and demands money in order for the restriction to be removed.
Some forms of ransomware will encrypt files on your computer making them completely inaccessible while other versions of ransomware are more sneaky, locking you out of specific programs or restricting access to your Windows desktop.
Ransomware can turn up anywhere online, but there are some sites known to have especially high concentrations of this type of malware. These places include peer-to-peer file transfer websites, free downloads sites, and porn or warez-based websites (sites focused on illegal software).
What Can Ransomware Do To Your Computer?
The capabilities of different types of ransomware vary widely depending on the type of attack, but it’s important to be aware of all the ways this virus can affect your computer.
Some ransomware is fairly benign and simply prevents access to specific files or programs on your system until a fee is paid. Others are more aggressive, forcibly taking over your computer screen with an intimidating ransom note demanding payment before you can use your PC again.
This “FBI” malware might even display fake online news articles that claim you have been caught watching pornography or illegally downloading music.
And then there is perhaps the most dangerous version of ransomware: one that encrypts your entire hard drive which locks out access to all of the personal data stored on it including family photos, saved e-mails, etc.
The amount demanded by attackers depends on a number of factors, including how quickly the victim contacts the cybercriminals and how much they stand to lose by not paying.
Some ransomware groups have even been known to provide an online tool that lets you calculate your ransom fee based on variables such as your OS version or infected file count.
How Ransomware Has Evolved
Ransomware has become a big business for cybercriminals, with monthly profits potentially in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just one recent strain — CryptoWall 2.0 — was estimated to have generated over $325 million from April 2014 through June 2015.
Your best bet is never to get infected by ransomware at all since there are no tools available today that can decrypt locked files without having access to a secret decryption key.
However, this means you need to keep yourself safe from ransomware attacks. To do this, it’s recommended that you follow a few simple practices:
One way to ensure you don’t become a victim is by not going near any suspicious websites or clicking random links in emails. The first step for a successful ransomware attack is getting a foothold on your computer.
If you stay away from dubious websites and refrain from running files downloaded from the internet — even if they come from seemingly legitimate sources — then you lower your risk of being infected with ransomware.
In addition, always be careful about what you’re downloading and installing, as well as what users are allowed to run on the computer through Windows’ built-in user account control (UAC) feature.
Tools like CryptoPrevent also exist which add an extra layer of security to your computer, protecting it from the vast majority of ransomware infections.
In summary, if your Windows PC is running with admin rights only when needed and has a good anti-virus solution in place, you should be able to easily cope with ransomware attacks.
As a final reminder, always think before opening any attachment or downloading anything from emails or websites. It’s better to be safe than sorry!