Definition

Ransomware is a type of computer malware (or virus) that encrypts the documents of a hard drive in exchange for money. Think of it as a digital kidnap, where you would have to pay (using an untraceable payment system, such as Bitcoin) to have your files back. Some variants of these viruses have been cracked to bypass the payment, but there are new ones always coming out that are impossible to crack.

How to prevent getting infected with ransomware?

Your best prevention is to control your curiosity. The majority of these attacks occur because of curiosity when receiving an email with a catchy subject line (e.g., “make money from home”, “enlarge your bank account”, etc.). Others come as an email from a friend. This is why it is so important never to forward email chains (you know, those that ask you to forward the email to 10 people or something bad will happen to you). When you forward these email chains, the email addresses of the people you send them to get recorded within the body of the email. These will eventually make it back to the bad guys and then they use those emails to plan their attack. Usually, you will receive an email from a friend or relative. Since it is possible to mask a sender’s email address to make it look like it’s being sent from someone else, this method is one of the most successful ones.

Here are some basic tips to avoid getting infected by ransomware:

  • Never open any attachments from people you don’t know (even if it says you’ll win a million dollars)
  • Never open any attachments you are not expecting. Let an IT crew member know if you receive a suspicious email
  • if you get a suspicious email from someone you know, do not click on any links or open any attachments until you have confirmed with that person that the email is from them
  • Do not download files from peer-to-peer torrent sites. Just visiting those sites can put you in higher risk
  • Do not visit obscure websites, and do not click on any ads
  • Do not click on ads that say your computer is infected. Report these immediately
  • If your web browser starts showing pop-ups or the default search engine isn’t Google, contact IT for a malware/virus scan

It can be hard to remember these things, but use some common sense when browsing the web and opening emails–especially those containing links to Dropbox or other cloud storage services. Be safe out there!

 

– Michael Reina
Systems Analyst – Old Sun Community College (2016)