Understanding Ransomware

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Ransomware is a form of malware (a virus) that encrypts files, or denies the user the ability to access their device, or both. There are many forms of ransomware, but they all lead to a demand for payment of a ransom for access to be allowed. 

Attacks typically come in the form of phishing emails, downloading free software, and remote access scams (someone being provided access to another person’s device and installing ransomware whilst in control). Once the ransomware has been executed, such as by clicking on links or attachments, the criminals have largely automated their whole process. Pop-ups or other screen messaging will alert the user to “a virus” or “encryption” or “computer being locked”. A contact point will be provided, typically with a short timeframe to respond to the ransom demand. 


Detecting Ransomware 

There are two ways to detect ransomware: 

  1. prior to executing the malware and 
  2. after executing the malware. The best way of detecting it before it’s executed is through antivirus. Make sure you run antivirus on all devices frequently. The other way is when it’s been executed and a demand is made. 


Preventing Ransomware
  • Ensure you back-up all of your data.
  • Run anti-virus frequently and make sure it’s the most recent version – millions of viruses are created each year so your anti-virus needs to keep up with these.
  • Turn off your cloud storage when you are not using it (like Google, DropBox, OneDrive etc).
  • Keep your operating system and apps/ software updated.
  • Consider blocking ads and pop-ups, and think twice before downloading freeware (free downloads) without checking their security first!
  • Become familiar with how to spot phishing emails and never provide remote access to your device when someone calls or emails you first.

Responding to Ransomware

There are hundreds of ransomware types, but unfortunately most cannot be decrypted. Ransomware encrypts and the criminals using it have the tools to decrypt. Before you think about paying, you may want to try the following:

  • EUROPOL and a number of software security vendors have launched a free decryption check called CRYPTO SHERIFF that can be accessed here.
  • Decryption services – these are by no means a guaranteed result and most cost money.
  • Assess what’s at risk and would be lost. If there’s too much at stake you may have to consider paying but be careful, you’re dealing with criminals.

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