What Is Ransomware?
Among the many types of computer viruses that you may encounter, ransomware is your worst nightmare. It refers to malicious programs used by cybercriminals to attack innocent people’s computers to extort money. Once the malicious software infiltrates the victim’s computer, it encrypts the files then sends the decrypting key to the orchestrators.
The results make it impossible for any other software or expert to decrypt the locked files. When file encryption is completed, the criminals will then communicate with the victims by dropping a ransom note on the desktop. The note will explain in detail why the user is failing to access personal files, giving them instructions on what they must do to gain access again.
To understand how deadly ransomware can be, let’s make Ryuk a real case study for this article. Ryuk is one of the most popular ransomware viruses that has been active since 2019. This malicious software is distributed through dodgy links as well as attachments on suspicious emails. Ryuk is regarded to be one of the most expensive ransomware, with some of the ransom fee demanding for entire system release exceeding $300,000.
This ransomware version has caused severe damage to several individuals and companies, leading to some of them closing down. With damage costs of around $60 million since it gained traction, these schemes scare victims into communicating with the criminals via an email ending with @protonmail.com or @tutanot.com. After getting in touch with the representatives, the victims will then receive the actual amount they must pay in exchange for the decryption key.
Most ransomware compels lure victims into making a payment via bitcoin. At times, the criminals will even demonstrate their ability to unlock files by requesting the victim to send one of their files for free unlocking. However, there is no guarantee whatsoever that after making the full payment, your files will return. Even if you’re able to retrieve your files, there’s no guarantee that you won’t encounter another attack, After all, you’ve already fallen for the trap once. Therefore, if you encounter a ransomware attack, we advise considering your files as lost and not pay a single dime in an attempt to recover them to avoid falling for another phony.
How to Prevent Ransomware?
In this part of the article, let’s take a look at some useful tips to avoid attacks related to ransomware. As you can see from the discussion we just had above, once you become a victim of ransomware, there is no second chance, especially with the newly released versions of ransomware. The older versions can be decrypted using the STOPdecryptor tool. However, by ‘old versions’ we mean anything released no later than 2019 autumn. Now, just imagine—how many ransomware versions have been released since then? A lot! Therefore, your best bet at fighting ransomware is to prevent it at all. Moreover, you should also make backups of your essential files just in case you lose grip and find yourself not having access to your important files. Here are the tips on how to prevent ransomware attacks:
Avoid Unverified Links
Spam emails or unverified websites usually feature a lot of external links. You must avoid clicking on those links as they might trigger the installation of ransomware. This will then lead to your files getting locked and held hostage for ransom.
Don’t Click on Unknown Email Attachments
This is one of the common ways attackers use to infiltrate unsuspecting victims’ systems. Through unknown emails, the attackers portray themselves as an official company, for instance, a delivery service with your parcel. To get the parcel delivered, you must click on the attachment containing a form that must be filled with your details to initiate the delivery process. However, once you click on the link, malware installation will be initiated. Therefore, avoid clicking on unknown email attachments. First, verify if the email came from a trusted source before accessing any attachments.
Activate VPN when on Public Network
Public Wi-Fi is a playground for cybercriminals. That is where they begin their attack and being cautious when using public networks is a sensible measure. When connected to a public network, your system becomes more vulnerable to attacks. Therefore, you must avoid making downloads, accessing important website and applications. Most importantly, activate a reliable VPN service.
Use Trusted & Verified Sites for Downloads
To avoid downloading ransomware, stick to verified sites when downloading setup files or media files. Always access sites that are verified with the trusted markers or HTTPS in place of HTTP. You can look for a shield or lock pad symbol as an indication that the site is secure. If using a smartphone, always stick to verified application stores such as Google Play and App Store.
Using a VPN also increase the security of your Internet browser as it encrypts all your internet traffic, making HTTP sites not so dangerous to visit.
Don’t Share Personal Data
Oversharing information over a phone call, text, or via email can be the cause of your downfall. First, verify if the phone call is from a legitimate representative. If possible, you can even ask the person to call you back after you have made deep research and properly verified them. Moreover, easily giving perpetrators personal information may make it easy to convince you in future to believe they are an official organization since they will be knowing about you in detail.
Avoid Unusually USB Drives
If you pick up a USB or find it lying around somewhere, it’s best to throw it away if you can’t find the owner. Or better yet keep it isolated but never make the mistake of inserting it on your computer. Criminals tend to leave or drop USB drives in public places just to lure people to pick them up and insert on their personal computers.
Update Your Software and Operating System on Time
System updates are very important as they come with important security patches that fortify protection against the latest threats. The same applies to programs, keeping them updated all the time will make your system run like a well-oiled machine and most importantly, keep safe from threats.
Use and Update Security Tools on Time
Not having a trusted security tool is a perfect recipe for disaster. That’s like dirt biking down a hill without a helmet and protective clothing. Security tools are essential when it comes to fighting ransomware attackers. They create a much-needed barrier that makes it difficult for cybercriminals to easily walk into your system. There are plenty of trusted security tools with the likes of Auslogics Anti-Malware as part of the list. However, it doesn’t stop with just having a security tool, you should also keep your security software updated all the time. Remember, ransomware attacks keep on improving with new versions being released almost weekly. Therefore, the security tool database also needs to stay updated to keep up with the attackers. Now you understand why it’s important not to miss an update for your antivirus.
Back Up Data Regularly
When worse comes to worst, having a backup of your important files might just save the day. The sad truth is that there is no foolproof strategy to prevent ransomware attacks. Therefore, although the measures mentioned above will help decrease chances of criminals’ success, you might still fall short. This means you will officially be left at their mercy to get your files back or not.
However, if you were regularly backing up your files, then it’s a matter of getting rid of the virus, restoring your files, and moving on with life. Most ideal backups are cloud-based since they can easily restore files after you have cleaned your system. You can also use an external hard drive, although you need to be careful not to plug it in while your system is infected and it might also get encrypted.
Tips on How to Respond to Ransomware Attacks
Now that it’s clear how you can prevent ransomware attacks, let’s prepare you for the worst in case you become or are already a victim of a ransomware attack. Once you fall a victim of a ransomware attack, your actions will determine how much more you’ll lose in addition to your files. To minimize the damage here are some things to keep in mind:
Quarantine the Infected Computer
When you discover that your computer has been attacked, the first thing is to disconnect it from your home network. This will stop the infection from spreading to other devices via the internet or network.
Don’t Pay the Ransom Fee
Paying may seem like the only way out but the sad truth it’s not even a solution to the problem at hand. There is no trust level of some sort that has been established. Even if they offer you a sample of decrypted file, you can’t trust them because the whole process from the beginning is based on manipulation and deception. Moreover, paying criminals is one way of encouraging them to continue doing the same thing to other people. The more ransom fee gets paid, the more ransomware attacks occur.
Initiate Ransomware Removal Process
Once you discover that your computer is infected, it is best to act on your feet and remove the virus as soon as possible. This will also help minimize the damage on top of returning things to normal.
How to Remove Ransomware
As indicated earlier on, chances of recovering your files are slim unless if the attacker used an outdated ransomware version. In that case, you can try tools such as Auslogics File Recovery to recover the encrypted files. Whichever tool you select to decrypt files, always pay attention to when it was last updated. For instance, during the development of this article, File Recovery Latest ver. 220.127.116.11 was updated 15 June 2020, while Wildfire Decryptor had been updated last in August 2016. As you can see, using the former will probably give you higher chances of gaining access to your files compared to the latter. Otherwise, just follow these steps to get rid of the virus for good:
1. Isolate the Computer
As indicated earlier on, the priority is to stop the virus from spreading. Therefore, you need to disconnect the infected computer from the internet.
2. Perform a Deep System Scan Using a Reputable Security Tool
Run a full system scan using a reliable security tool. This measure will assist in identifying any threats related to the malicious program. Anything flagged as a risk will be quarantined or removed immediately.
3. Restore your Files from Backup
After you have cleaned the infected areas and got a second opinion from a different trusted security tool by performing a full system scan using it, you can now restore your files from your backup location. This will revert your system to its healthy nature that is malware-free.
While we’ve provided effective tips on protecting you from ransomware, your security still depends on how you do your due diligence. Remember to have the right tools and be wary of the sites you visit, as well as the emails you receive.