First thing that we need to do is to identify what Ransomware is. Ransomware is an exploit in which the hacker encrypts the unsuspecting user's data demanding ransom for the decryption key payable in un-traceable funds. This is a true mess any way that you look at it and Ransomware has become a multi-billion dollar venture globally.
Between January 2016 and November 2016, the distribution of ransomware increased by 267% (Source: 2017 State of Malware, MalwareBytes) and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it is predicted that ransomware will move beyond encrypting your files and begin to lock the boot partition of your hard drive, meaning that you will not so much as be able to load your operating system.
So what do we do about this? Ladies and gentlemen, there is not much we can do about the problem. I'd like to say that if people stop paying the ransom monies, the business would go under. However, like Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California, there are going to be organizations who find themselves in the position where they must pay. There will be senior citizens who are preyed upon by this attacks who feel there is no alternative than to pay up. This is not true. Let's continue our journey.
How Did I Get It? - A very good question with a very bad answer. There are several ways that you can get it and it does not mean that you did it to yourself. The most common way to get ransomware is by opening an email attachment from an unsuspected sender. Many of these emails come in the form of IRS notifications, shipment receipts, important documents, etc. You can also receive the bug from an infected website and even now, it can be on a legitimate website embedded in an advertisement. Or, in today's advanced world of "always connected" high speed Internet, you could have received it through a drive-by payload.
Prevention is The Best Medicine - Education is key here and lucky for you stopping by to read this, I am like a techie educator. Let's look at some things that you should do to try and prevent an infection on your device.
- Keep your computer clean as far as making sure that your software and any Internet-connected devices are up to date. Be sure and run critical updates from all vendors on a regular basis or better yet, automatically.
Use strong passwords. Include letters, numbers, symbols, upper case and lower case characters and at least 8 in length. Try phrases, they work better.
If you have the opportunity to do so, use two-factor authentication with every service that you can. If your accounts are hacked, this will speed up the time it takes to gain control of your accounts again.
Never open email attachments from persons that you do not know. As a rule of thumb, the IRS will not contact you by telephone or email to discuss anything with you; they will snail mail you. No one will email or text you and ask you for personal information or passwords; if this happens do NOT respond. Shippers (UPS, USPS, FedEx, etc) will not send you shipping information or receipts in your email. It is the responsibility of the company with whom you placed your order to send that information to you. If ever in doubt, trash the email without opening it.
OK, But I Got Infected - If I leave you with one piece of urgent information to take away from this article, it is BACKUP BACKUP BACKUP! If you become infected with Ransomware or any other extremely damaging malware, the best defense is to have a backup of your files because the only recourse that should be considered is to know that you have a recent backup so you can take a deep breath, relax and format your device and start over. You should never consider payment to these criminals. If you have a good backup then yourself or your technology professional will have you fixed in no time.
There are many things that you can do, both free and monetary, to protect yourself from Ransomware. However, the truth is that there is no way of avoiding it. Hackers will work feverishly every day to find new and innovative ways to steal your money and that means that Ransomware will only get worse. Do yourself a favor for piece of mind and backup and do it regularly so that you are current. Do what I do. I keep my documents, pictures and other important stuff on cloud services and never on my computer. In the end, if infected, I've only lost the time to restore. I hope this gives you a little valuable information that keeps you a little bit safer on the Internet.