The Ransomware Epidemic and What You Can Do About It

By December 21, 2016 April 12th, 2018 No Comments

Ransomware is one of most destructive forms of malicious software, as it can be extremely difficult to remove. Infected computers and devices can be hijacked by cybercriminals, who then demand money to restore access to the device. Ransomware attacks are increasingly common and can lead to major problems for individuals, businesses and organizations. With new variants of this malicious software being developed all the time, it’s important to protect yourself against these attacks.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that can infect computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices. Once the ransomware has been executed on an infected device, it can prevent users from accessing their systems or files. Cybercriminals can then demand a ransom to restore access to the device or encrypted files.

In fact, the number of ransomware attacks grew by more than 500 percent in a single year, from about 130,000 victims in 2015 to more than 700,000 in 2016 so far. These numbers come courtesy of Kaspersky Labs, one of the most widely respected names in the computer protection industry, but you do not have to be an industry expert to know the threat is very real.

What Happens During a Ransomware Attack?

There are two main types of ransomware attack: a screen lock attack and a file encryption attack. With a screen lock attack, users will see a full screen message or image that informs them that their system has been hijacked and instructs them to pay a ransom, usually using an anonymous online payment method such as Bitcoin. With a file encryption attack, users will be unable to access specific files, such as photographs, text files, spreadsheets or other documents, and a ransom will be demanded to return full access to the files.

How Does Ransomware infect Computers and Devices?

Ransomware can be unwittingly downloaded onto a computer device when users visit malicious websites, or sometimes trusted sites that have been compromised by malware. Ransomware can also be downloaded when opening infected email attachments or clicking on links in phishing emails, social media communications and instant messages. Smartphones, tablets and other devices can be infected by malicious software that is downloaded when installing other applications.

How Can I Protect Against Ransomware?

The best way to protect your computers and devices against ransomware is to maintain high levels of security and always back up your files to different devices. A good antivirus program is essential for any device that connects to the Internet. Update your antivirus software, operating system, drivers, programs, applications and any other software as soon as updates are available, as this will help to ensure that you have the newest security patches.

Back up your data regularly in at least two separate locations, such as an external drive, cloud storage or another device, as this will enable you to restore any files deleted or encrypted by malware. Some forms of ransomware can also prevent you from accessing your cloud storage, so it’s a good idea to use at least one offline storage method when backing up your files.

Finally, take care when visiting new websites, opening email attachments or clicking on links in emails, instant messages, social media communications or even advertisements, as these could all contain malware. Trusted websites can also be compromised by malware, so it’s important to remain vigilant and look for any signs of unusual activity.

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