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What is Ransomware?

What is Ransomware?

What is Ransomware?

Nearly everyone has heard over the last week how a newer form of cyber-attack has hit Europe, and worryingly for those of us in the U.K, it has targeted the NHS, but what exactly is ransomware? It is a form of virus that attacks and encrypts files making them inaccessible and only being able to access them, as the title of this blog shows, by paying a ransom to the attacker to regain access. The current attacks have been by a virus called WannaCry which locks all files down giving a few days to pay a ransom before deleting everything (obviously catastrophic to any business). Well you can easily imagine the damage this can cause to a company or organisation. Take a look at the NHS, thousands of files were have been encrypted by the attackers, this instantly puts a financial strain which can hardly be afforded and puts many patients at risk due to important information being inaccessible.  As well as this affecting the NHS, it can affect any and every business in so many ways. Generally the ransomware will lock all files down which will grind a business to a halt.

Unlike a lot of common viruses which are often the result of a download or certain pages that are clicked accidentally, ransomwares are very direct and happen simply by opening an email (what is known as “Phishing”. Attackers will often write (a somewhat) generalised email i.e. from a “boss”, and convincing email which many people won’t think too much about it and will click a download link which will bring the ransomware into the network and bypassing your security features.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Compared to other typical viruses, ransomware can be hard to stop as it’s not a typical virus that anti-virus or malware systems fight against. Whereas system security will see a threat generally straight away and stop it dead, ransomware can hit thousands of files before your security even knows it’s there and once it does stop it all the previous files that were affected will remain so. Paying the ransom should be the last resort, but if you are savvy enough you should find that you can avoid ransomware yourself without relying on your system’s security:

  1. Backup regularly – backing up has always been important, especially if things go corrupt on your computer, but with more and more software being used in conjunction with the internet, more and more access is being given to attackers to get to your computer. Backing up on a very regular basis is a great way and getting around the problem of ransomware. If you notice your files have become encrypted, you can restore from a previous backup which contains none of the encrypted files. Although you will lose out on anything saved in the meantime, it is a lot better than having to start everything from scratch or even have to pay the ransom itself.
  2. Always double check emails – the amount of emails that we receive these days is staggering (269 billion per day) and it’s very easy to just open up an email without thinking who it is from or just clicking any link as it sounds very good. A common example of an attackers email will be to send one pretending to be the boss and instructing you to open the link. Once you have, the ransomware is downloaded and damage is being done straight away. Always double check the address of where the email is from, you should recognise  it if it’s from someone you know. The other way to check is the wording of the email, when reading the email if it doesn’t seem written in the way that the person their pretending to be usually writes it then don’t trust it.
  3. security scans – as you can ever be too sure if a link is safe or not using an antivirus software that pre scans files before their downloaded will help to know. They will alert you if the link is trustworthy or not giving you some extra protection which a firewall may not be able to.
  4. Common sense – generally you should trust your instincts and only open emails that you know where there coming from. Also, if you come across links to websites, type the website into the address bar, it will often tell you its unsafe as opposed to a link taking you straight to the page that will download a virus.

It’s becoming harder to keep on top of cyber-attacks these days as their happening so often, but using caution and the right software you can make your computer (and company) as safe as it can possibly be.