What is a Ransomware Attack and How to Prevent it
Picture this. You just got an email from a mysterious sender with “Unable to deliver your package” or “New voicemail message from [your mom’s phone number]” in the subject line. You open it, and it says a courier was unable to deliver a parcel to you. Logically, this prompts you to click on the attachment to find out more and see what went wrong.
A ransomware virus often hides in attachments like this. If you open it, then it may cause you far more severe problems than an undelivered parcel.
You won’t need to deal with the consequences of a ransomware attack if you don’t allow it to happen. Clario has your back by checking links for safety and providing you with real-time protection from viruses. Start your free trial now and stay safe whenever you need to surf the web.
In this article, we’ll touch upon the basics of ransomware, so you know what to do to prevent the attack.
- What is ransomware?
- How does ransomware work?
- The most common types of ransomware
- How to prevent a ransomware attack?
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is malware that silently blocks victims from accessing their own data or locks them out of their devices.
An attacker holds the data hostage, threatening to expose or destroy it. The attackers’ main aim is to demand payment (or ransom) from a victim in exchange for unlocking their device or data. Not only can the ransomware perpetrators exhort hard-earned bitcoins from regular users like you and I, but they can stir up trouble at a national level too — like in the recent Colonial Pipeline attack.
What’s even worse, cybercriminals sometimes offer a specific window of time during which victims should pay the ransom. If they miss the deadline, the ransom can increase.
CryptoWall, Maze, and WannaCry are only a few ransomware names that you might have heard of that can infiltrate your device looking for vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, cyberattacks are neither new nor rare. The first ransomware virus, AIDS Trojan, was distributed on floppy disks more than 30 years ago. Back then, cyber actors were asking for a ransom of $189.
Now the techniques that cybercriminals use are much more advanced and can break down the barriers of even the most sophisticated defense systems. For instance, Cognizant, one of the largest Fortune 500 tech and consulting companies, was attacked by Maze ransomware in 2020. Reportedly, they lost between $50m and $70m in the immediate aftermath.
How does ransomware work?
Ransomware uses various ways to access your device, be it a computer or a smartphone. Its main aim is to infiltrate your network, encrypt your data, and extort a ransom from you. And, of course, to replicate itself and spread across the internet.
Let’s take a closer look at the steps this type of malware takes to attack your device.
Stage 1. Infection
Ransomware threats may be waiting for you at malicious or compromised websites or hiding behind malvertisements. The most frequent way ransomware gets into victims’ devices is by sending them phishing emails with malicious attachments.
Stage 2. Security key exchange
Once you download it, malware establishes its presence on your device and encrypts the data it stores.
Stage 3. Compromising a system
You think your device has just started lagging, but this could be an indicator that ransomware is taking control of your computer or phone. Apart from encrypting the data, it can also delete any backups or even look for Bitcoin wallets to steal.
Stage 4. Extortion
This is the stage when ransomware reveals itself. The victim usually receives a note from attackers together with a payment request. But, in practice, attackers rarely deliver the decryption keys, even when a victim pays the ransom. Removing ransomware from Mac, Windows PC, smartphone, or any other device is never as easy as sending an attacker some money.
The most common types of ransomware
Ransomware covers several different types of malware. They all include a ransom that attackers demand from victims. Here’s a list of the most widespread ransomware that can threaten your device and put your data at risk.
This type of ransomware is exceptionally savvy. First, it encrypts all valuable data such as your files, folders, and hard drives. Then, it reveals itself and demands a ransom to be paid within a specific time slot, usually 24 to 48 hours. Of course, paying the ransom won’t guarantee that your files will be decrypted.
Also known as extortionware or leakware, dox ransomware not only encrypts your data but also steals it and sends copies back to the attacker. After that, it extorts victims by threatening to publicly expose their sensitive information. For businesses and organizations, a doxware attack could mean compromising their entire systems, including customer records, confidential files, or intellectual property. This can lead to financial, reputational, and legal problems.
As the name implies, scareware itself doesn’t cause any harm. Instead, it sends alerts and pop-ups falsely claiming your computer is in danger. It usually behaves like antivirus software, notifying you that your files have been infected and tricks you into visiting malware-infested websites. When you do, you may be prompted to purchase software that is supposed to “fix” the so-called problem. But, like any other kind of ransomware, it will encrypt or steal your data instead.
Lockers shut down computers and mobile devices, allowing only limited access, so the victim can respond to the ransomware demands. But unlike other types of ransomware, it doesn’t encrypt the files and doesn’t fully infiltrate your device. So you can identify it and then remove it from your PC or smartphone without paying anything.
How to prevent a ransomware attack?
Ransomware allows hackers to hijack your sensitive data and turn your life upside down.
Here are a few tips on preventing ransomware attacks to help you avoid falling into the hackers’ trap.
- Only install software from trusted resources. Ransomware file extensions often have the same format as regular files (.exe, .txt, or .zip). To be sure the software is safe, only download files from trusted websites and stores.
- Turn on your spam filter. Phishing emails are often disguised as notifications from a delivery service, e-commerce store, financial institution, or even a law enforcement agency. An effective spam filter can prevent about 99% of these emails from ever reaching your inbox.
- Secure your backups. Frequent and automatic backups are a must. But, today’s ransomware is wily enough to encrypt or delete them. The best option is to use backup systems that either do not allow direct access to the backup files or keep these files offline.
- Think twice before clicking. Danger may sometimes hide behind a shared link from someone you trust. Often, cybercriminals use compromised accounts to distribute malicious links to their contact lists. So if the link you received looks suspicious, don’t click on it. Even when it comes from your mom. It’s better to check if she sent you anything instead of risking being compromised by ransomware.
- Use secure networks. Public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe, so cybercriminals use them to snoop on your internet surfing. If you absolutely need to connect using public Wi-Fi, consider installing a VPN to ensure a secure connection.
- Keep your software updated. Cybercriminals often obtain access to old software versions since they are full of security loopholes. Timely software updates can keep you out of trouble and ensure you get the most from the software you’re using.
Following our tips on how to avoid ransomware is only the first step in securing your digital life. You need to be vigilant to stay protected. But even the most cautious internet surfer can sometimes end up catching computer viruses or ransomware.
To keep your data safe, install anti-malware software like Clario. With Clario’s unlimited VPN, all-round protection, and 24/7 real human support, you can sleep soundly knowing that your digital security is in good hands.