Have you heard about a ransomware attack?
Or experience getting a pop-up on your computer screen that someone has access to your computer or to your personal files and demands you to pay for a certain amount to get your access back?
When a ransomware attack turns your most important files into encrypted gibberish, and paying to get those files back is your only option, you’re in big trouble. Choose the best ransomware protection for your PC to prevent those attacks from ever happening.
Why You Need Ransomware Protection
You’ve done your due diligence, installing antivirus protection on all of your computers. Now you can sit back and relax, confident that even if some rare zero-day attack gets past your layers of protection, the antivirus company will push out an update that clears up the problem in a day or two. Relax! Or maybe…don’t. If the sneak attack that got through your defenses was ransomware, the damage is done. Your files are encrypted. Quarantining the culprit process after the fact can’t do a thing about your inaccessible encrypted files. That’s why it makes sense to supplement your antivirus with a partner app that’s solely focused on ransomware. Ransomware-specific apps tend to be cheap, or free, so upping your protection game won’t break the bank.
It’s even worse when your business gets attacked by ransomware. Depending on the nature of the business, every hour of lost productivity might cost thousands of dollars, or even more. Fortunately, while ransomware attacks are on the rise, so are techniques for fighting those attacks. Here we look at anti-ransomware tools you can use to protect yourself from ransomware.
What Is Ransomware, and How Do You Get It?
The premise of ransomware is simple. The attacker finds a way to take something of yours, and demands payment for its return. Encrypting ransomware, the most common type, takes away access to your important documents by replacing them with encrypted copies. Pay the ransom and you get the key to decrypt those documents (you hope). There is another type of ransomware that denies all use of your computer or mobile device. However, this screen locker ransomware is easier to defeat, and just doesn’t pose the same level of threat as encrypting ransomware. Perhaps the most pernicious example is malware that encrypts your entire hard drive, rendering the computer unusable. Fortunately, this last type is uncommon.
If you’re hit by a ransomware attack, you won’t know it at first. It doesn’t show the usual signs that you’ve got malware. Encrypting ransomware works in the background, aiming to complete its nasty mission before you notice its presence. Once finished with the job, it gets in your face, displaying instructions for how to pay the ransom and get your files back. Naturally the perpetrators require untraceable payment; Bitcoin is a popular choice. The ransomware may also instruct victims to purchase a gift card or prepaid debit card and supply the card number.
As for how you contract this infestation, quite often it happens through an infected PDF or Office document sent to you in an email that looks legitimate. It may even seem to come from an address within your company’s domain. That seems to be what happened with the WannaCry ransomware attack. If you have the slightest doubt as to the legitimacy of the email, don’t click the link, and do report it to your IT department.
Of course, ransomware is just another kind of malware, and any malware-delivery method could bring it to you. A drive-by download hosted by a malicious advertisement on an otherwise-safe site, for example. You could even contract this scourge by inserting a gimmicked USB drive into your PC, though this is less common. If you’re lucky, your malware protection utility will catch it immediately. If not, you could be in trouble.
CryptoLocker and Other Encrypting Malware
Until the massive WannaCry attack, CryptoLocker was probably the best-known ransomware strain. It surfaced several years ago. An international consortium of law enforcement and security agencies took down the group behind CryptoLocker, but other groups kept the name alive, applying it to their own malicious creations.
Even if ransomware gets past your antivirus, chances are good that within a short while an antivirus update will clear the attacker from your system. The problem is, of course, that removing the ransomware itself doesn’t get your files back. The only reliable guarantee of recovery is maintaining a hardened cloud backup of your important files.
But really, the best defense against ransomware involves keeping it from taking your files hostage. There are a number of different approaches to accomplish this goal.
A well-designed antivirus utility ought to eliminate ransomware on sight, but ransomware designers are tricky. They work hard to get around old-school signature-based malware detection. And it only takes one slipup by your antivirus to let a new, unknown ransomware attack render your files unusable. Even if the antivirus gets an update that removes the ransomware, it can’t bring back the files.
Modern antivirus utilities supplement signature-based detection with some form of behavior monitoring. Some rely exclusively on watching for malicious behavior rather than looking for known threats. And behavior-based detection specifically aimed at ransomware behaviors is becoming more common.
Ransomware typically goes after files stored in common locations like the desktop and the Documents folder. Some antivirus tools and security suites foil ransomware attacks by denying unauthorized access to these locations. Typically, they pre-authorize known good programs such as word processors and spreadsheets. On any access attempt by an unknown program, they ask you, the user, whether to allow access. If that notification comes out of the blue, not from anything you did yourself, block it!
Of course, using an online backup utility to keep an up-to-date backup of your essential files is the very best defense against ransomware. First, you root out the offending malware, perhaps with help from your antivirus company’s tech support. With that task complete, you simply restore your backed-up files. Note that some ransomware attempts to encrypt your backups as well. Backup systems in which your backed-up files appear in a virtual disk drive may be especially vulnerable. Check with your backup provider to find out what defenses the product has against ransomware.
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