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Virtually everyone is aware of the many benefits that come with browsing the internet. However, many are unaware of the dangers inherent in doing so where adequate care is not taken. To keep safe on the internet, you must stay informed about many things happening in cyberspace.

One such thing is the harmful effects of ransomware. Sadly, only a few people can boast of having adequate information about them. This is one of the reasons it continues to be used for ravaging unsuspecting people.

What Defines Ransomware? 

IT experts have revealed that the question, “What is ransomware?” has continued to be one of the questions most people who desire knowledge about malware have been asking. Ransomware is malware used by hackers to encrypt their victims’ files. Cyber attackers who indulge in the use of this malware usually demand a ransom from their victims after they have launched their attack for them to restore access to stolen data.

People who fall victim to these attackers are given instructions on how to make payments as a fee to get the decryption key. Such fees can be anything from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. To avoid getting payments traced to them, they usually ask for payments to be made to them in Bitcoin.

How Ransomware Is Designed To Work

Ransomware can use different vectors to gain access to a computer. Phishing email is one of the most common delivery systems, and they come as encrypting files or attachments in emails sent to victims, masked as files they can trust.

Ransomware exploits social engineering

As soon as these files are downloaded and opened, they take over the victims’ computers. The process is made more accessible if the attached files come with built-in social engineering tools that lure victims into handing over administrative access.

Some other more aggressive ransomware doesn’t need to trick users but only exploit security loopholes by infecting the victims’ computers.

File encryption in victim’s computer

Once the malware has taken over a victim’s computer, it can do various things, but the most common action it takes is encrypting a part or the entire user’s files. You cannot decrypt the files unless you have a mathematical key known only to the attacker.

What usually follows is a message from the attacker explaining that the files are no longer accessible to the owner. The attacker would agree to decrypt the files if the victim would be willing to make an untraceable Bitcoin payment into their account. In some instances, attackers have pretended to be from a law enforcement agency.

They have shut down the victim’s computer due to pirated software or the presence of pornography on it. A demand for the payment of a fine is then made, perhaps to make the victim less suspicious and willing to report it as a cyber-attack to authorities. However, most attackers refrain from bothering themselves with this pretence.

Different kinds of attacks

A variation of this sort of attack, known as doxware or leakware, can occur where the attacker threatens to make public some sensitive data found on the victim’s hard drive. The attacker could make good on their threat unless the victims pay the ransom. Since acquiring such information is challenging for attackers, they would instead use encryption ransomware to get at their victims.

Those Who Can Be Targets For Ransomware Attack

Attackers can use different ways to decide on the organisations or people they attack. At times, it is simply a matter of opportunity, and at such times, attackers may make universities their target. This is because they usually have smaller security teams and use a disparate user base where many files are shared.

In such a situation, it is easier to get their security compromised. At other times, some organisations are seen by attackers as tempting targets because they appear likely to be capable of quickly paying their ransom. An example can be when government agencies or medical facilities require prompt access to their files. Some organisations, like law firms with sensitive data, may want to stay quiet and pay the ransom.

Ransomware attackers know for sure that some of these organisations are usually more prone to leakware attacks. Even if you don’t fit into any of these categories, it is not any reason for you to feel safe. As mentioned, some ransomware spreads automatically and without explanation over the internet.

How To Stay Protected From Ransomware

There are some defensive steps you can take that will help you in ransomware protection. These steps involve good security practices; following them will improve your defences against all cyber-attacks.

  • By keeping it patched and up-to-date, you can ensure fewer vulnerabilities in your operating system that attackers may exploit.
  • Refrain from installing software, especially those that request administrative privileges, unless you are sure about what software it is and what it does.
  • Install antivirus software that can help detect malicious programs such as ransomware if sent to you and whitelisting software. This should stop unauthorised applications from executing in your computer system.
  • You need to back up your files regularly and automatically. This will not necessarily prevent a malware attack but can reduce the damage it causes.

How To Remove Ransomware From Computers

Computer systems suffering from ransomware infections may still be redeemed. This can be done safely by professionals, but there are some steps you can take by yourself, such as scanning your computer system to find the ransomware program and restoring it to a previous state.

Should you succeed in removing the malware from your computer after taking these steps, you need to be aware that they won’t decrypt your files. The files would have been transformed into an unreadable mode. If the attacker used sophisticated malware, you would need a mathematical key in their possession for its decryption.

Removing the malware could preclude the possibility of restoring your encrypted files by paying the ransom demanded by the attackers.

Should Ransom Be Paid When Asked?

Victims whose computer systems get infected with malware and experience losing vital data often find themselves at a crossroads. They are torn between paying the ransom as instructed by attackers and not paying them. Most law enforcement agencies will not encourage you to pay any ransom. It is believed that doing so will only encourage these hackers to create more ransomware.

In reality, most organisations in this situation would do a cost-benefit analysis before giving thoughts on steps for the greater good. They would want to weigh the ransom price they were asked to pay against the value of the encrypted files. Findings have shown that while up to 66% of organisations say they would never be pressured into a ransom, 65% actually pay when they get affected.

Ransomware attackers usually keep their prices low so companies can afford them on short notice. Some of this malware is so sophisticated that it can detect the country where the computer system is running. The attackers use this information to match the nation’s economy by making greater demands from companies in rich countries and less from countries with struggling economies. A company may need to shut down its partner portal or reconfigure when this situation occurs.

Whether you pay ransomware attackers when they ask for ransom or not, you need to remember a few things. First, you want to be sure your data has been truly encrypted; otherwise, you may end up paying for nothing. The second thing is there is no guarantee that these attackers will get your files back even if they have been truly encrypted. Cases have been reported of criminals who took the paid ransom and ran away because they did not build a decryption functionality in the malware in the first place.

Get A Professional Review Of Your System

Should you go through this unpleasant experience, you should first try and determine which systems have been affected. You need to isolate those that have not been affected. You should disconnect your systems and power them down because ransomware can spread quickly.

Prioritise restoring your systems so that the most important ones can resume operation fast. Letting a professional review the environment is advised, as it may be necessary to add another layer to the endpoint security to prevent the onslaught of another attack.

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