What is ransomware and how can you protect yourself from it?

Ransomware is a type of malware that locks a user out of their computer or files until a sum of money has been paid. According to Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), ransomware is now the fifth most common variety of malware. 

Ransomware can be detrimental to users (Photo/Flickr)

The Department of Homeland Security warns that ransomware’s effect can be “devastating.” Learning how to protect yourself from ransomware is more important than ever.

How ransomware works

In order to work, a virus must first access your computer. The primary trick hackers use to breach a computer is to send a link or attachment that looks legitimate.

Once a user clicks on the link or attachment, the ransomware encrypts the computer’s hard drive, locking users out of computer files like photos, personal finance records, business information and more.

One story, as reported by Time magazine, discusses an authentic looking email from FedEx. The recipient was expecting a package in the mail, so he clicked on the attachment for delivery details. Rather than receiving information from FedEx about his delivery, he received a ransom note demanding $300 to retrieve all data on this computer.

This story isn’t an anomaly either. In fact, 59% of ransomware attacks occur via phishing emails that lure you into clicking on malicious links or attachments, according to a 2016 study by Osterman Research.

Deeper dive: What type of ransomware exists?

Ransomware can look different depending on who the hacker is and what their goals of the ransomware are. Let’s explore two types of ransomware.

Encrypting ransomware blocks files within your computer. In order to decrypt the content, victims must pay for the key, usually via bitcoin.

Locker ransomware takes a slightly different approach. Rather than focusing on files, this type of ransomware locks the victim out of their entire operating system. This means it’s impossible for a user to log in to their computer, access their desktop or any applications and files. In this case, the files are not encrypted, however, a victim must still pay a ransom to unlock their computer.

More than 5,100 ransomware complaints were reported to the FBI over the past two years. And, while the average ransom amount is $300 per computer, according to Symantec, some businesses have reported paying over $40,000 to regain access to their files or computers.

Ransomware primarily targets computers running on Microsoft operating systems. (Luckily, EZPD specializes in Microsoft operating systems.)

Who do hackers target?

Hackers that use ransomware have the motive to target a wide variety of people and organizations.

For example, cybercriminals often target startups for their breakthrough technology. Locking a startup out of their computers would be detrimental to a business’s growth. This means they are more inclined to pay a ransom to have access to their work again.  

Similarly, targeting well-established companies can yield payments for hackers too. Large companies will pay to protect sales lists, client information, or any other sensitive information they’ve collected over the years.

When criminals target hospitals, the staff becomes locked out of patient files, halting care. This means lives are potentially on the line.

Individual and personal computers are also at risk. Hackers know personal computers have less security than in some organizations, and often individuals aren’t expecting an attack. Most of us store personal information on our computers that are priceless to us.

With that said, if someone — regardless of who it is — has valuable information, criminals know there is money to be made. Companies and individuals will go to great lengths to save their data.

Still, there are ways to be proactive, and protect yourself before a criminal finds your vulnerability.

Five ways to protect yourself from ransomware

    1. Don’t click suspicious links. This is the most obvious solution. Be skeptical of all links and attachments that come your way. Read the entire email, including the email address, carefully. Check for signals that the sender might not be authentic.
    2. Back your data up, and password protect it outside of your PC. If ransomware infects your computer and have your files backed up, you don’t need to pay the ransom. They can’t steal what you’ve already protected. Your backed up files, whether you store to a hard drive or in the cloud, are only as secure as the password you use to protect them.
    3. Keep software up to date. One of the most common vulnerabilities for ransomware is out of date software on your technology. Software updates can catch and stop malicious files and viruses. If your operating system is out of date, it’s more likely they will miss suspect links and attachments.
    4. Enable a pop-up blocker. In addition to email links and attachments, malware scams can also come through websites via pop-ups that offer ‘free’ file downloads, including music, movies and games, or free access to content. Reduce the temptation to click on these by blocking them from your computer.
    5. Password protect everything. Depending on the type of malware or ransomware your computer picks up, strong and unique passwords to your personal files and internet accounts can protect your information at various touchpoints.

Password protection for your passwords

It’s also important to note, that while all ransomware strains work differently, there are cases of password-stealing malware being used in conjunction with ransomware.

The best way to keep your passwords protected from ransomware is to back up your credentials and use a secure password to protect them.

EZPD is the best solution for password protection. EZPD is a platform that allows users to easily create strong, secure passwords up to 96 characters long.

After you’ve entered your password, you can delete all traces of EZPD and your password from your computer. When you need access to your locked accounts, EZPD allows you to easily regenerate the same password when you need it.

Passwords are never stored on a PC or cloud, which makes them virtually invisible and impossible to be compromised by attacks like ransomware.

Cyberattacks get more refined by the day. As cybercriminals learn from their mistakes and tweak their malicious code to be stronger, more strategic cyber security solutions are necessary.

Protect yourself. Download EZPD today.