Ransomware Explained: How It Works and How to Prevent It

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When people think of computer viruses, they typically think of a downloaded virus entering a person’s computer or device and affecting its performance. People imagine a laggy, slow computer, random pop-ups, strange toolbars, and a decreasing battery life. These types of viruses, while inconvenient, are usually harmless in the long run and can be fixed with anti-virus software. However, there’s a far greater cyber threat out there: ransomware.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a kind of malicious software or malware that is specifically designed to block sensitive data or information from a person’s device until a ransom is paid. It locks down files, folders, and even computer access until the victim pays the demands. Typically, the price depends on how sensitive the data is. Research shows that ransomware attacks generate about $1 billion each year. However, this number is projected to skyrocket in the upcoming years. 

How bad can it be?

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A few of the most notorious ransomware attacks that have taken place include: 

  • According to The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City’s government experienced a crippling ransomware attack on May 7th, 2019. The attack lead to a loss of roughly $18 million that left the city struggling to recover for months. 
  • The leading ransomware, Ryuk, extracts an average of $288,000 per attack. In general, Ryuk seeks out companies with a large number of employees. 
  • In May 2017, a worldwide attack performed by a crypto worm targeted Microsoft Windows users in return for a ransom paid by Bitcoin. The security breach, called the WannaCry ransomware attack, affected over 300,000 computers across more than 150 countries. 
  • An attack on Demant (the largest hearing aid manufacturer) cost the company a staggering $95 million in September 2019. The company had a $14 million cyber insurance policy, which protected them from an even harder hit. Demand could not fully operate for several weeks because the internal IT center shut down, prohibiting production and order shipment.

Regardless of a company’s size, worth, location, and status, ransomware can cause devastation. This danger applies not only to individuals and private enterprises but to government agencies as well. In some cases, hackers have attacked multiple agencies within a single city, causing irreparable damage. 

How to protect yourself

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While ransomware attacks can strike anyone, you can take preventative measures to make it more difficult for hackers to succeed. To protect you or your business from ransomware, you can take the following precautions: 

  • Keep your anti-malware security up-to-date. Many people never check to see whether or not they’ve ever been targeted by malware. Small businesses, in particular, tend to neglect their security needs because they don’t perceive themselves as worthy targets. However, ransomware attacks affect businesses of all sizes. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so always keep your antivirus software up to date. For extra protection, you can invest in ransomware detection software that regularly completes deep scans of your computer and eliminates threats. 
  • Be wary of malicious emails. Ransomware attacks often come in the form of phishy emails. These emails appear genuine, often including a great level of detail. To avoid falling prey to phishing, always use email filters and scan all emails properly before opening them. Also, take heed every time you follow links sent to you from outside your organization or download anything. Business managers should educate their employees about the risks of ransomware and the signs of phishy emails. 
  • Create a plan. Everyone or every company should have a recovery plan for any possible setbacks and an idea of how to deal with ransomware attacks. Technical strategies like wiping out current PCs and restoring data from backups is crucial. Make sure everyone on your staff knows when it’s necessary to report an issue and alert police. You should also have a strategy for communicating with clients should a security breach occur. 
  • Think before paying a ransom. If your business falls prey to an attack, don’t make a payment immediately. Always discuss the attack with the authorities, even if the attacker demands a small amount. Then, you’ll have to consider whether restoring the data is worth the ransom. It’s also important to keep the global community in mind; giving into cyberattack demands may lead to further attacks.

Keep yourself safe through prevention

Although you will have the option to pay the price of a ransomware attack to restore lost data, it is better to prevent attacks than respond to them. Keeping your security system in check and educating household members or employees on the risks of malware can go a long way in keeping you safe from online harm. 

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