Why Ransomware is Popular and what can you Do to Prevent it?

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In today’s world, cybersecurity has become a major concern for individuals and corporations alike. Our PCs, smartphones and other handheld devices, IoT products, and our smart homes are all vulnerable to a plethora of attacks. Last year alone, there were a ton of security attacks made against PCs and mobile devices.

What was one of the most major security threats? Ransomware. This is a type of malicious software or malware, which is aimed at taking computer files, and sometimes even the entire PC, hostage.

The files are either encrypted so people cannot open them or users are completely locked out of their PCs to prevent them from accessing important photos, videos, and other important files.

Once this is done, the malicious attackers who sent the malware in the first place will get in touch with the person or corporation and demand a ransom. They promise to decrypt the files after the demand has been fulfilled.

Ransomware is most certainly not a new cybersecurity threat. This first known ransomware attack was carried out in 1989 and floppy disks were used for spreading it between computers.

It has surged in popularity because today’s world has become fully-connected, which means that open-source ransomware software can be easily accessed. Furthermore, the strong potential of financial benefits associated with ransomware has also made it popular amongst cyber-criminals.

Almost all forms of malware are referred to as viruses, but the truth is that a virus is only a specific type of malware. There are other kinds as well such as Trojan horses, worms, ransomware and spyware and the purpose of each malware is different.

For instance, worms bog down a PC’s performance by replicating, viruses are aimed at infecting your computer, damaging your files and spreading to new hosts and Trojan horses are looking to find a secret backdoor to your PC so they can access your personal information.

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There are a ton of reasons why cyber-criminals create and distribute these various types of malware.

In the case of ransomware, the purpose is quite straightforward; cyber-criminals usually want money.

Generally speaking, their aim is not to destroy or damage your files permanently and they are not interested in stealing your personal identity either. They just want to convince you to pay them for decrypting your information.

The highest profile ransomware attack was conducted last year called WannaCry that affected hospitals, major corporations, government agencies, and airports.

While PCs remain the most popular target for carrying out ransomware attacks, hackers can also use your mobile devices and others for exploiting and taking advantage. There are several types of ransomware that can be used, which are:

Crypto-malware: This is the most common type of ransomware that’s used by cyber-criminals and it is used for encrypting files. Computer access is possible, but files cannot be opened.

Locker: As the name indicates, this kind of ransomware is designed to completely lock users out of their PCs, which means that they cannot even log in. The master file table of the hard drive is used for locking up the computer.

Doxware: A copy of any sensitive files is downloaded onto the PC of the hacker with Doxware and they threaten to publish the files until a ransom is paid.

Scareware: This is a fake software program claiming to have unearthed issues on your PC and demands money for fixing them. It may lock-up the PC or inundate the screen with alerts and pop-up messages until payment is made.

How to Prevent a Ransomware Attack

The ideal way of dealing with a ransomware attack is by preventing it from happening in the first place. How can this be done? You can take the following tips:

Make sure your apps and operating system are updated

Sure, the constant notices you get from Microsoft about Windows updates can be very annoying, but they should not be ignored. Likewise, the updates on your smartphone as well as your other IoT devices should also be installed immediately.

This is because a number of system updates comprise of security patches and these are critical for keeping your devices safe and protected.

Moreover, you should know that if your PC is still using an older operating system that’s no longer supported by Microsoft such as Windows XP, then you are even more vulnerable to ransomware attacks.

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Therefore, you should definitely make it a priority to upgrade to the latest operating system. You should also make it a priority to update your computer software, especially your plug-ins and web browsers.

Create a backup of your files

It is also recommended that you perform regular backups of your system to an external device such as a NAS drive, a USB hard drive or even cloud storage for data loss prevention.

If you don’t want to back up your entire system, you can at least create a backup of your most important and crucial files so that they are safe from issues such as hard-drive failure, malware, and ransomware attacks.

Nowadays, storage options have become quite accessible and cheap and there is also a huge variety to choose from in the NAS and USB categories. You also have a wide array of cloud-based storage options at your disposal such as Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive and MEGA.

Install antivirus software and keep it updated

There are different kinds of antivirus software available in the market nowadays and they offer you varying levels of protection to keep you safe from malware and ransomware.

As the needs of individuals and businesses tend to vary, there are separate programs offered for the two and they come with a multitude of features.

Moreover, you can find them at various price levels as they are designed to suit different budgets and you can opt for the one you feel most comfortable with.

However, you should ensure that it offers you the most comprehensive protection possible. Also, antivirus software makers usually update their programs regularly for maintaining their effectiveness and you should install the necessary updates to avoid any problems.

Be on the lookout for manipulative social-engineering techniques

While this has been repeated several times when it comes to staying protected, it needs to be said again; you should never click or open links and files that are received from unknown sources.

If you receive an email that comes with a questionable attachment, the simplest solution is to just delete it without opening it at all. If the sender is someone known to you, it is recommended that you reach out to them to verify if they have sent you an attachment via email.

Only then should you open the email because it is possible that their device may have been compromised and now being used to exploit others.

Furthermore, you should also keep your eye out for messages that are designed to trick you into clicking links that lead you to malicious websites.

This could be in the form of text, email or even messages on social media. You should always check that the site is HTTPS enabled, especially when you are asked to enter your personal and private information.

These websites usually have a green padlock symbol in the browser, which is a visual cue that the site you are using is secure.