Cybercrime has been on the rise for many years and shows no signs of slowing down. While cyberattacks were once focused on large companies, now everyone – from small business owners to local government employees and individuals – must be on the lookout.
One of the most common types of cyberattacks is ransomware. Ransomware can lock your computer data and hold it hostage until you pay the ransom to the attacker. These attacks can be devastating if you are not properly prepared.
In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about ransomware: what it is, how it works, and what to do about it.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type malware (will open in a new tab) which reversibly encrypts files on your computer. While many people and companies regularly encrypt their files for security purposes, ransomware creates problems because the attacker has the decryption key, not the owner of the computer. This means that users cannot access their files unless a hacker decrypts them.
In a typical ransomware attack, the hacker will offer to decrypt your files for a fee. This is an attack ransom and can range from hundreds of dollars for an individual to millions for a large corporation.
Some ransomware deletes your files after a certain predetermined period of time, causing victims to pay quickly. In other ransomware attacks, the attacker also steals copies of your data and threatens to reveal it if you refuse to pay. This type of ransomware attack can be especially problematic for large companies and government agencies that store sensitive data.
There is no guarantee that an attacker will decrypt your files, even if you pay. However, in most cases, cybercriminals do what they promise. By illegally distorting traditional business practices, the attacker is interested in creating a reputation for a person who honors his guarantees. Otherwise, there would be little incentive for future victims to pay the ransom.
How do ransomware attacks work?
Ransomware attacks usually begin by hijacking your computer or network. Often this disruption is made possible by successful phishing (will open in a new tab) attack. For example, you may click on a suspicious link in an email that downloads ransomware to your computer or gives an attacker access to your device.
Once an attacker is inside your computer, it may only take them a few hours to deploy ransomware. The malware will automatically encrypt all files on your computer, effectively blocking access to your device. Once your files are completely locked, many ransomware is designed to display a message demanding a ransom and further instructions on how to contact the attacker.
At this point, you have several options. If you’re ready and have all your files backed up, you can reset your device and restore your backups. This may take a long time, but it should remove the ransomware from your device and allow you to get your data back.
If you don’t have backups and need to restore access to your data, you can contact the attackers to pay the ransom. While the US government warns against paying a ransom (will open in a new tab), it is not illegal. Most ransoms must be paid in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, and some cybercriminal groups even have customer service departments to guide you through the payment process.
Why are ransomware attacks so common?
Number of known ransomware attacks more than double (will open in a new tab) between 2020 and 2021, and it is likely that there will be even more ransomware attacks in 2022. A large part of the reason for this is that ransomware attacks are incredibly lucrative for criminals.
According to sophos report (will open in a new tab), the average ransom paid by companies last year was over $800,000. When cybercriminals can make so much money from each attack, they have a lot of incentive to continue the flurry of ransomware attacks.
In fact, some cybercriminal groups focus almost exclusively on ransomware attacks. These groups release ransomware software that any hacker can use and receive a cut of the profits in return. This business model lowers the bar for launching ransomware attacks and makes it easier to target anyone or any company.
How to protect yourself from ransomware attacks
The best way to protect against ransomware attacks is to be proactive. Be suspicious of any links in emails as they are a common source of ransomware. You can also use antivirus software (will open in a new tab) to track ransomware and remove it before it can lock your files.
If you haven’t already, you should use Cloud Backup Software (will open in a new tab) keep copies of all your files. This way, even if you are the victim of a ransomware attack, you can recover your data without paying a ransom.
For businesses, the best way to protect against ransomware is to secure their network as much as possible. Identity management software (will open in a new tab) can help prevent ransomware from spreading throughout an organization, which can cause large-scale damage. It is also important to inform employees about how to avoid phishing online (will open in a new tab) fraudulent activities that can lead to ransomware attacks.
Ransomware is a threat that, unfortunately, has not gone away. Ransomware attacks can lock files on your computer and hold them hostage until you pay the attacker a ransom. If you don’t pay, you risk losing all your files.
If you respond to a ransomware attack after it has happened, you are too late. The best way to protect against ransomware is to recognize and avoid phishing attempts, install antivirus software on your computer, and back up all your files.