This is a commissioned work for a UAE-based blog Snappo (http://snappo.ae/) written last August 28.
For those people who are into information technology, the term “ransomware” is not new. Its first occurrence was said to be in Russia almost ten years ago when a user’s files got zipped and password-protected. Ransomware then left a text file that acted as the ransom note asking the user for $300 (roughly AED 11,020) in exchange of “freeing” the system and files.
Hinting from the term “ransom,” ransomware is a type of malware (or malicious software) that prevents or limits users from accessing their system, which could be done by locking the system’s screen or by locking the users’ files. Sounds hassle, right? The “locking” means that users would not be able to access Windows and that certain apps would be stopped, which includes web browsers. Imagine how this would be if you’re in the middle of a research or an important Skype call? Moreover, these could encrypt the files, so the users could not use them at all. Those reports you’ve been doing for quite sometime? Say goodbye to them.
As seen in the incident in Russia, getting the computer “locked” is just the beginning. To be able to retrieve the computer’s system, a cost must be paid, but this depends on who is behind the ransomware. In the first recorded incident, it was $300, but this could be higher or lower. However, there is no absolute guarantee that paying would give access to the PC and files as it were before.
Ransomware can get on to users’ PC from almost any source that any other malware, including viruses, can come from. This includes visiting unsafe, suspicious, or fake websites, opening emails and email attachments from unknown people, and clicking on malicious or bad links in emails, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts, instant messenger chats, like Skype.
Many sources have said that it can be very difficult to restore the PC to its original form after a ransomware attack even if the ransom has been paid, especially if it’s infected by encryption. Therefore, the best solution would be prevention. So here are four tips users could use to avoid ransomware:
- Think before you click. Thousands of spam messages are being sent everyday, and one of these could contain ransomware in the form of links. These links could promise something in return, such as free stuff or exclusive video of something. While these could be very enticing, if you’re unsure of the contents and unless you absolutely trust the page or sender, do not click these links.
- Read the contents. Since ransomware sometimes use fake websites and emails, a clue that users could use is through noticing bad spelling, such as “PayePal” instead of “PayPal,” unusual spaces, symbols, or punctuations, like “i-TunesCustomerService” instead of “iTunes Customer Service.” Legitimate websites often take their time to proofread, and they always uplift correctness, so when these mechanical errors occur, leave the page and don’t click any further.
- Strengthen Internet security. While strengthening the Internet security is often paid, this could be a more secure preventive measure; installing antivirus/ Internet security software, such as Kaspersky, can do this. These actively scan the websites you visit. If the antivirus/ Internet security software spot malicious contents, you are either automatically blocked from the websites or are warned thus protecting you from any possible harm.
- Keep the computer up to date. From time to time, PCs send security updates that help block or remove any malicious programs in the system where ransomware could be embedded. When you do not update, your vulnerability increases, so to be safe, always click that “update” button.
Considering its impacts, ransomware could be worrying, but knowing what it is and how it could be avoided provide users with the utmost needed security.