What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malware designed to deny access to a user’s computer and its data until a fee is paid. The ransomware does this by encrypting all the data on the user’s computer. This malware is typically delivered through a phishing email, which contains a link that, when clicked, delivers the ransomware payload onto the user’s computer. Ransomware first gained attention in the late 80s and was implemented using basic cryptography, which when it worked, set off a new world of cyber criminals, where corporate networks were targeted.

How does Ransomware work?

This malware essentially locks the users’ computer by running a payload, which locks the user’s computer until a ransom is paid to unlock it. This extortion may not end after the fee is paid. If the user has files that are deemed important, they should back them up on a separate, remote drive in case of an attack. When the ransomware is deployed, the files on the user’s computer are typically locked or encrypted and the fee is usually paid in a virtual currency, which is usually untraceable.

What does a Ransomware attack look like?

The NHS was hit by a targeted ransomware attack on May 12, 2017, so it is possible that even ultra-secure government organizations are vulnerable to such attacks. Ransomware attacks computer systems in one of two ways: the first way is that it encrypts the files on a computer or network; and the second attack focuses on locking the user’s computer. Some forms of this malicious software can even spread like a worm and infect other users on the network, damaging files. Even after paying the ransom, there is no guarantee that the user’s files will be undamaged or that the issue will go away. Paying the ransom may even embolden the cyber criminal to try and get more money out of the target.

How do I protect myself from Ransomware?

  • Make sure to backup your data and have a recovery plan in place in the event of a successful phishing attack.
  • Have up-to-date anti-virus software in place and be sure to do a fine scan of anything downloaded directly from the internet to verify it’s virus-free.
  • When using processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, be sure to avoid enabling macros, since the macro languages are embedded in the documents. If the applications are allowed to run when the documents are open, the user may accidentally execute the malware on the machine through the embedded code.
  • Be sure not to download files from the internet that are not authenticated, such as unsolicited web links in emails.


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