Have you ever received an email that seemed suspicious? Or visited a website that tried to download something to your computer? Chances are, these may have been attempts to install ransomware on your computer. At this point, most people are aware of online viruses, but you may not have heard of ransomware before. Ransomware is a type of virus that can encrypt/lock your files and computer, and then demand a payment to be made to the attackers in order to restore access to the computer.
Types of Ransomware
There are two main types of ransomware: locker ransomware and crypto ransomware. Locker ransomware will lock you out of your computer, while crypto ransomware will encrypt and restrict access to your files. While these are the main types of ransomware, some specific viruses can also have the ability to do other malicious things such as steal passwords and information, or use the network to spread the ransomware to other devices connected to it.
Famous cases of Ransomware attacks
You may be thinking: “I would never be foolish enough to get infected by ransomware!”, but there have been many examples of large institutions and companies falling victim to ransomware attacks:
In 2016, the University of Calgary experienced a ransomware attack where the university’s email server was encrypted. The University discovered that the attack had been done by an external source, which means that even universities with their security (most likely more secure than the security of an average person) were susceptible to ransomware attacks. The university ended up paying $20,000 to the attackers in order to get the decryption keys to restore access to their files.
In 2017, a ransomware called WannaCry spread and took advantage of a security issue in people’s Windows computers that had not yet updated to the latest version. This virus would scan the network that the infected computers were connected to, and if any computers on the network were vulnerable, it would infect those computers as well. It ended up infecting around 230,000 computers in a period of only a few days, with several companies being hit, such as the United Kingdom’s Nation Health Service and the telecommunications company Telefónica. The damages to the National Health Service alone was estimated to cost them around 100 million USD.
These cases demonstrate that if large institutions can be hit by ransomware attacks, it is possible for you to be a victim as well!
How to stay safe
There are number of precautions that you can take to ensure your PC does not get infected by ransomware or other viruses:
Make sure you have good antivirus: Antivirus software can be helpful in preventing ransomware attacks by detecting if there is anything malicious included in downloaded files, preventing you from accessing suspicious websites, and preventing any unusual applications from running. Some antiviruses have specific protection against ransomware, but the feature will usually only come with paid antiviruses, not the free versions.
Don’t click sketchy links: The majority of viruses are transferred to the user’s computer through an install of a malicious file or application. It is possible to force the user to install these malicious files by making them click a link on an email or visit a website. Thus, you can prevent ransomware attacks by avoiding any links or popups on suspicious emails and websites that are not from trusted sources.
Keep your computer operating system updated: As you can see from the WannaCry situation, it is possible for viruses to take advantage of security loopholes in your operating system. If everybody had updated to the newest version of Windows that patched the loophole, no one would have been infected by the ransomware. It is important to always keep your computer updated to the newest version.
Make backups of your information: The main risk of ransomware is being unable to access your files on your computer. If you frequently back up your files, even if your computer gets compromised by ransomware you will not have to worry about losing everything. Now that it is easy to store files on the Cloud through services like OneDrive and Google Drive, backing up your files is a very simple and effective way of reducing the effects of ransomware.
Ransomware attacks throughout the years have shown how devastating the effects can be towards corporations and consumers alike. However, by staying informed about ransomware and how to protect against it, you can prevent attacks and keep your files and computer safe.