What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a popular form of cyber-attack in which the attacker encrypts or otherwise restricts access to someone’s personal files and information. Once the files have been encrypted, the attacker will then claim that they can only grant access to their decrypted files if they pay a fee, or a ransom (hence the name “ransomware”). According to a 2016 Symantec report, the average ransom demand is almost $700 and “consumers are the most likely victims of ransomware, accounting for 57 percent of all infections between January 2015 and April 2016.” Ransomware is typically installed on one’s computer via a link in a phishing email, or by clicking on a link on a suspect website. Therefore, the easiest way to defend against ransomware is to be smart when surfing the web, and be leery of phishing attacks.
How Can Ransomware be Avoided?
Once ransomware has infected a computer, it can be quite difficult to recover the lost files without succumbing to the ransom, unless you have been backing up to an external drive. Luckily, ransomware can be easily avoided by simply staying on your toes and being smart when weeding out phishing emails. Below are some examples of carefully crafted phishing emails that have lured in victims of ransomware in the past.
Figure 1: A phishing email disguised as a free $100 airline ticket from American Airlines
Figure 2: A phishing email disguised as an official communication from Google to download Google Chrome
Figure 3: A phishing email disguised as a demand for payment from Staples
You may look at these examples and think “Well, I’d have to be a dummy to click on those links!” However, these are examples of emails that have sucessfully triggered a ransomware attack on somone’s personal computer. By being able to detect phishing emails and knowing what links to not click on, you can save yourself from a major cyber-attack, and potentially, a major loss of personal information.
In addition, there are a few other key ways to defend yourself against a ransomware attack, namely:
- Install and maintain up-to-date antivirus software. This is key to not only preventing a ransomware attack, but also any sort of virus or malware that could be posed against you.
- Keep all software, plug-ins, and drivers up-to-date. Keeping your computer updated across the board is vital to your security.
- Back up your files. If an attacker were to get access to your computer, keeping your important files backed up externally will help minimize the repercussions of the attack.
For more information about ransomware and personal cyber security in general, feel free to read more at:
As always, remember to forward all suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org!