How to be Aware of Ransomware

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Seb Pope

Seb Pope

Most of us have heard of computer nasties, usually simply referred to as viruses or ‘malware’.  Some of us may also be aware that malware can take many different forms, each of which can cause different types of problems/damage and require different fixes. This blog looks at one particular type of malware, known as ‘ransomware’,  and explores the potential dangers of being affected by it, as well as what we can do to avoid it. 

What is ransomware? 

As the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed, there is a clue in the name! Ransomware is exactly what it sounds like: malicious software (malware) that holds users to ransom. You may be wondering how exactly a piece of nasty software can hold you to ransom? After all, you own your computer, you are in control of it and who can access it, right? Surely nobody can take, damage or otherwise interfere with your files and folders? This is sadly wrong. Ransomware is as horrible as it sounds; it is malicious software that can render your files and folders completely unusable or make them disappear altogether. The ‘kind-hearted’ people who gave you the ransomware in the first place will give you the opportunity to get it all back, they’ll simply demand a lot of money first! Sound like a good deal? No, we don’t think so either. 

How do you get attacked with ransomware? 

Unfortunately, it can be very easy to find yourself the unwilling recipient of ransomware, in the same way as you might with other viruses and malware. It can make its way on to your computer through clicking malicious links in emails, installing malicious files, etc. which can happen very easily and quickly – taking only seconds.  

What happens if you are a victim? 

As is often the case with malware (and ransomware is no exception) your computer can be infected without you even realising it. That is, until you go to do that one important job, or open that one important file, and realise that it’s not there anymore, or that it fails to open properly. Your file might even open, but will have mysteriously turned into complete gibberish. In other instances, your newly acquired ransomware will notify you instantly, for a more hard-hitting, dramatic effect, to really get the user panicking. In either case, you will usually receive a message to say your files and folders have been removed, damaged, encrypted or rendered otherwise unusable and in order to restore them, you need to contact your not-so-generous ransomware provider (via email usually) to resolve the issue. This will be in exchange for a not-so-small fee which can be hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds. Does this really happen? Yes, without the correct IT support, it can happen to anyone.  

Can it be fixed? 

Ransomware can be fixed a number of ways. One of them is to actually pay the ransom but this is clearly the least preferred option! Paying the ransom also guarantees nothing and often only serves to confirm to the criminals -which is what they are- that (a) you have been affected by the ransomware, (b) you don’t know how else to fix it and (c) you have money so may well actually be able to pay a higher ransom than originally demanded. Ransomware can also be fixed by completely wiping all your computers’ hard drives and other storage and rebuilding the computers from scratch. This is akin to fully disinfecting a room before replacing all the furniture! However, performing this solution doesn’t address the problem of getting your files back – it just removes the ransomware. Getting your files and folders back relies on being able to restore the folders from a recent, healthy backup and this is the preferred option. Of course, you need to have a recent healthy back up in the first place! So, what happens if you pay the ransomware – do you get your files and folders back? Well, usually not, because the criminals tend to initially give you back just a handful in order to demonstrate that they have the ability and power to do so (or not), and to tempt you to pay them more money to receive the rest. It can be a Pandora’s box of trouble, expense, stress and, potentially, business ruin. Yes, this really happens, too.  

Can it be prevented?  

As with almost all viruses and malware, falling foul of ransomware can be entirely preventable by taking a few simple measures. The first of which is ensuring that users are familiar with how to spot potentially harmful software and how to avoid allowing it to gain access to their computers in the first place. Almost all malware finds its way to our computers through emails containing either attachments, or links to websites, or instructions to perform certain actions. The golden rule here is that unless you are expecting an attachment from a known contact, do not open it or save it to your computer. Get a second opinion and just leave it alone! The same goes for links to websites. Legitimate emails will almost never ask you to perform confidential or sensitive actions by clicking a link and if they do, it’s worth taking a few minutes to get a second opinion, either from your friendly IT experts or from the people who sent the message in the first place! The other measure you can put in place very easily is to ask IT professionals to protect your computers, files and folders with proper antivirus and backup solutions: this is something we can help you with. 

At West Wales Systems, we protect many people and businesses with our professional grade antivirus and malware solutions as well as state of the art cloud-based backup services that provide that safety net, should the worst happen. As with all such measures, you don’t realise how much you need them, until you need them! If you would like more advice, guidance or to speak to us about how we can help you protect your business, please get in touch today.