What is Ransomware?

The word ‘ransomware‘ is a combination of ransom and software, and refers to any kind of malware that demands a ransom from a user in exchange for the return of a kidnapped file. Kidnapped, ransom, is this for real? Yes. Basically, this threat works just like a kidnapping in real life, except the things held captive are your files which may be multimedia files, office files, or system files that your computer or business relies on to work properly.

How is it spread? Typical methods are through attachments sent via unsolicited emails, or by clicking on a link in an email that claims to be from a bank or delivery company. They are also distributed through peer-to-peer file sharing networks, being passed on through activation keys for popular software like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office. Or from almost anywhere on compromised websites.

What kinds are there? There are two kinds. The first is called a file coder which encrypts the files, and the second is a lock screen which locks the computer and stops you using it until you have paid the ransom. This type of threat sometimes employs psychological methods to trick you and pressurize you into paying. In some cases, the lock screen also incorporates a live transmission of what the webcam is currently seeing, which creates a feeling that someone really is watching you. Other times, the message on the lock screen takes the form of a notice from a national police force which states that the authorities require you to pay a fine because they have found evidence that your computer contains images of child abuse or bestiality, or that you have visited illegal websites or used pirated software.

So, do you have to pay? We do not recommend paying for two reasons. Firstly, there is no way to stop the attackers demanding more money from you and, secondly, if you pay the ransom, you are helping create a new market for cyber criminals which could lead to further ransomware attacks, as well as other types of attacks in the future. Make sure to back up your data regularly so you can recover your files if you are unlucky enough that it happens again, and also make sure to seek qualified help getting better protection for your computer.

As always, prevention is better than the cure (although at some point everyone is going to have a problem with ransomware). If you have a good security solution, have the latest updates for your phone, computer, or server, and run frequent backups, you should have vastly fewer problems. Keep enjoying everything that technology has to offer you.