As you are probably well aware, ransomware is one of the most widespread forms of malware out there and one of the most difficult to fight. This is true because of the obscene profits hackers make from it and because those profits are incredibly difficult to trace. If you aren’t quite sure how ransomware works, it’s really pretty simple: the malware encrypts certain files on your computer, making them inaccessible for you. Then you are prompted to pay ransom (fee, charge, fine – whatever term the hackers may use in the specific case) in return for the decryption keys, so you can decode your files. That ransom is typically requested to be paid in Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies, which are notorious for being hard to track down.
Every year the number of new, unique ransomware samples increases in a near-geometrical progression – that is a staggering amount of viruses traveling the web, making the Internet a more and more dangerous place. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should browse the web in fear for the safety of your computer and the information stored on it. With this article we aim to provide you with enough knowledge about ransomware, for you to be able to effectively protect yourself from it infecting your PC. Once you understand the fundamental principles of its distribution, you will be able to easily avoid getting entangled with this type of virus.
In most cases ransomware needs a ‘little helper’ to let it into your computer – a Trojan Horse virus. These are even more common than ransomware and in most cases they are sent via email. These emails can be straight up spam and should be easy to identify as such (advertising, promotional material, etc.), or they can have a more sophisticated disguise. In some cases cyber criminals have gone as far as to try and imitate gas or water companies, who are reaching out to you in regards of a bill they’ve attached to the email. In other cases it may be a bill for some online service, or a product you purchased via some popular website. Whichever it is, they will all have one thing in common: either an attached file or a link they’re asking you to follow. Even if the file is something as seemingly harmless as a Word or PDF document, it can still be infected with a Trojan, and the second you open it – it will proceed to download the ransomware. The same goes for the hyperlink (if present). Therefore, if you have already opened the email, but are unsure whether to trust it, it’s best to write the sender a new email asking to confirm the contents of the email. Better yet, if the email poses as an existing company, use the contact form for the company to request confirmation. Better safe than sorry.
Another very common distribution method is program bundling. It involves the practice of hiding the ransomware (or Trojan ) within some other program, which you would willingly seek out and download. Typically this would be some freeware, or even a cracked program or pirate copies of something. And since these are more often than not located on various open source download platforms or torrent sites, these should be the places to avoid. Unfortunately, this is the reality and if you choose to download content from pages like these, you will always be exposing yourself to real danger.
One more effective way for ransomware to infect your PC is through malvertisements. These are basically fake ads, which automatically lead the virus into your system. They too are found on pages like the ones described above, but may also appear as pop-up windows or might even re-direct you to a new page entirely. Either way, it is vital that you avoid clicking on any of these, because the risk of infection is very real. In case of a pop-up or page re-direct, simply close the window without touching anything else.
It should by far go without saying that your computer’s safety largely depends on the security system installed – the antivirus program. It is up to you to choose a proven, well-established antivirus that will be running at all times on your PC. You can also consider using its browser add-on, which most antiviruses have, as this will ensure a safer browsing experience and will help block threats. In addition to your antivirus (which is the bare minimum and an absolute must-have), you might want to consider taking your safety to the next level and installing an anti-malware program. There is a wide choice of these available on the market – both free and paid – and it will greatly enhance your security, as this program specifically focuses on recognizing and blocking malware of all sorts. And, as pointed out earlier, since ransomware is among the most common instances of malware out there, it is a top priority for these types of software.