What is Ransomware? Cybersecurity for Beginners

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In 2022, the Costa Rican government suffered a severe ransomware attack that disabled government parastatals and threatened to overthrow the regime of President Rodrigo Chaves. The attack critically affected the Finance ministry to the extent that taxes were calculated “by hand” and paid in cash rather than the usual digital processes. 

No one is immune from ransomware attacks, from individuals to governments, the military, schools, and business organizations. But what exactly is ransomware, how does it happen, and what steps can be taken to guard against it?

What is ransomware?

Simply put, ransomware is malware programmed to invade a computer system and prevent an individual or organization access to their files on the system until a ransom is paid. The process goes through an elaborate encryption scheme where the hacker proceeds to encrypt the files and demands a ransom to decrypt the files. 

Think of it this way- a heist, but this time for data and files. 

Common Ransomware Threats

The most common examples of ransomware are CryptoLocker, Cerber, Ryuk, Petya, SamSam, Locky, NotPetya, etc. Moreover, ransomware splits into different categories, some of which are below:

  • Scareware: This ransomware category utilizes a pop-up notification to announce a virus detection on your device as a ploy to infest your computer.
  • Ransomware as a Service (RaaS): A ransomware variant offered as a service that enables affiliates to deploy ransomware tools in executing ransomware attacks.
  • Lockers: aims to lock you out of your computer so you cannot access your files and applications.

Preventive steps against Ransomware

You can protect yourself against ransomware attacks through the following measures:

Strong passwords 

Strong passwords provide a competent line of defense against ransomware attacks. Hackers rely on password hacking tools to decode passwords, allowing them to break into computers. Using weak passwords indirectly makes you an accomplice in your attacks because it makes their work much more manageable. 

It is recommended that a good password should be 10-12 long and should include upper and lower case alphabets, numerals, or special characters. If you need help generating strong passwords, consider using a password manager.

Data backup

Since the ultimate aim of ransomware is to attack your personal or official documents, an excellent way to protect yourself is to back up all critical documents. Depending on the frequency of use, you must carry out a data backup regularly so that new files can be captured.

There are three types of data backup; full, differential, and incremental. The full backup backs up every file on your device, while the differential kind backs up only the files that have been changed or altered recently. The incremental counterpart backs up new files created after the last backup. 

Avoid opening any suspicious email links or attachments

This is arguably the most common method of ransomware transmission. If you own an email account, you have mostly received spam mail asking you to click a link or download an attachment.

However, if you encounter such emails, please ignore them. Refrain from clicking suspicious links.

USB or Flash drives

A malware-infected USB stick or flash drive can easily infect your computer. If you must use a public computer, you should refrain from inserting your USB stick or flash drive. Never allow unknown external devices into your computers; it is better to be safe than sorry.

Antivirus 

A wide array of internet solutions software can block or remove infected files. Antivirus software may also provide warnings about suspicious links and attachments. While premium antivirus software often comes with a price tag, most are affordable. 

Moreover, the alternative to purchasing a good antivirus is to leave yourself vulnerable, suffer an attack, and end up paying a ransom.

Conclusion

The threat of ransomware is growing significantly and may not abate anytime soon. Ransomware groups are getting more daring and emboldened in their attacks. Protect yourself by taking the necessary preventive steps before it gets too late.

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