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What is ransomware and what do you need to know to be safe?

Despite the fact that there are over a billion different types of malware on the Internet that seek out victims to infect, one is still causing financial damage and has been bothering security personnel for several years.

The sole purpose of ransomware is to prevent access to computer systems or files until the victim pays the ransom. These redemption requests range in value from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars.


Ransomware in a nutshell

In a nutshell, ransomware is malicious software that prevents users from using their devices or accessing personal or crucial files until they pay a ransom. Payment is usually requested in a cryptocurrency like Monero or Bitcoin. Victims are instructed to purchase these digital products and then transfer them to the perpetrators.

Ransomware has evolved over the last decade to target more victims, produce a large profit for cybercriminals, and make data recovery nearly impossible if the victim does not pay the ransom or does not recover data from backups.

While encryption is a powerful tool for ensuring online privacy, allowing everyone to communicate without fear of being intercepted, ransomware developers have utilized it to prevent users from accessing impacted files. If attackers do not deliver victims a decryption key, which allows access to impacted systems after payment of the ransom, some encryption schemes render data recovery impossible.

Imagine someone breaking into your home, discovering your valuables, locking them in an impregnable chest in the middle of the house, and then fleeing with the key to the chest and a ransom letter. The thief will give you the key to open the trunk and reclaim your jewelry if you contact him and pay the ransom. You won’t be able to open the trunk otherwise. You are aware that all of your possessions are inside, but you are unable to access them. Ransomware is similar to malware in that it encrypts files and data.

Despite the fact that early versions of the ransomware were not particularly dangerous, and their primary goal was to prevent users from accessing their devices by using screen locks (no data was encrypted), later versions began to use encryption (versions known as crypto-ransomware) and other techniques to prevent access to locally stored files and even cloud backups. In less than two years, certain crypto-ransomware families have made more than $2 billion in ransom payments.

Extortion has become a common approach used by other ransomware families to get victims to pay the ransom. Before encrypting sensitive material, for example, attackers take it and threaten to expose it online as part of an intimidation campaign if the ransom is not paid.

Last but not least, ransomware that encrypts disk drives (disk-encryptors) is the most hazardous type. In contrast to file encryptors, ransomware that encrypts disk drives prevents users from booting their complete operating system because the entire disk drive is “held hostage.”


The mechanism for spreading ransomware

Emails are still one of the most common ways for ransomware to propagate. The majority of ransomware outbreaks occur when victims are duped into clicking on links and downloading ransomware-infected files, or when infected papers that look like resumes, invoices, or other papers are attached. A notice appears on the victim’s desktop screen immediately after they open the file, informing them that access to their files has been restricted and providing directions on how to acquire a decryption key if they desire to recover access.

Another strategy employed by attackers is to purchase advertising space on high-traffic websites, which they then use to exploit browser or plug-in vulnerabilities that are irreversible. When a vulnerability like this is exploited, the browser or plug-in fails, and the ransomware payload is automatically installed. Because many users are wary of email attachments and links, this strategy eliminates user interaction and the social engineering component based on unpatched vulnerabilities.

Cybercriminals also utilize illegal content obtained by victims from torrents or “warez” websites to spread ransomware. Unsuspecting consumers install ransomware that looks like cracked software, license key generators, and other forms of software on their computers, execute them, and then install malware.


How can you protect yourself from ransomware?

Ransomware is the foundation of an immensely profitable business for cybercriminals, and they are continually investing in new ways to infect victims and complicate the security solutions’ defense mechanisms. However, combating ransomware is not difficult. For years, law enforcement and security firms have collaborated to assist victims in recovering their files. In circumstances where law enforcement authorities and security firms have discovered a mechanism to decrypt files for certain families of ransomware, initiatives such as the website can assist victims of ransomware in recovering their data.

Before visiting such a page, it is advised to install a security solution capable of detecting the most recent ransomware families, with different levels of protection designed to detect malware at various phases of the attack.

It is also advised that vital files and documents be backed up on a regular basis. Keeping these backups on storage devices that are not directly linked to your computer or that can not be located on your network is particularly critical, because ransomware infestations frequently look for and encrypt linked storage devices. If you do this, even if you become infected and lose access to locally stored files, you can retrieve them from a backup at any moment without having to pay the ransom.



Both law enforcement and security organizations advise you not to pay the ransom. The ransom payment financially stimulates the development of new and complex families of ransomware, contributes to the financing of other criminal operations in cyberspace, and, overall, legitimizes the use of ransomware through cybercriminals’ profits.

Keep that in mind! It is critical to pay attention to unsolicited emails, to keep all software and operating systems up to date, to install a security solution with multiple levels of protection against ransomware, and to avoid being impacted.