What is Ransomware?
Like the name implies, “ransomware” is essentially a malicious program that allows your computer or server to be sabotaged and held at ransom, while cybercriminals demand you do something for them in order for you to regain access.
Often, hackers demand money under the threat that they will erase everything you’ve ever saved or created on the computer.
All forms of ransomware put a halt to your computer usage, preventing you from operating your system.
A dialogue box may pop up and demand a payment in order to use your computer again.
Some forms of ransomware can be quite complex and result in the encryption of your computer files.
With the files scrambled, you may be asked to make a payment or even complete another task – taking a survey, for instance – in order to unlock what already belongs to you.
In extreme cases, a victim’s hard drive might be locked permanently.
How does ransomware work?
Computers often fall prey to ransomware attacks through typical phishing scams, which involve malicious email attachments or links.
A victim clicks on an attachment or tries to open a link, both of which look legitimate, only to be infected.
In many cases, once a lock has been placed on a computer, cybercriminals demand their ransom.
It could be a small amount, cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.
They typically demand payment in the form of a Bitcoin or through an untraceable form of prepaid cards.
Now, mobile devices also face the threat of being hacked and held at ransom.
How do I protect my devices?
First of all, use updated antivirus products and ensure all other software you use is kept up to date.
But be aware.
Anti-virus companies often can’t keep up with the growing number of threats, and once your computer is held at ransom, there’s a significant chance you’ll never get your data back – even if you pay the so-called ransom.
Here are some tips:
- Having a pop-up blocker will protect against ransomware threats.
- Avoid suspicious emails or links.
- The best way to prevent being a victim ransomware could be the easiest: keep backup files of your data. Make it a point to keep duplicates of all files, and store them on an external device, such as a USB or external hard drive. If you keep duplicates, there’s no need to even consider paying a criminal to unlock your computer.
How do I remove ransomware?
Most ransomware occurs through computers that use Windows; Macs are a small percentage of ransomware incidents.
According to Windows, removing ransomware depends on a couple of factors.
If your web browser is locked, you can try to use the Windows “Task Manager” to force the browser to quit.
You can do this by opening the Task Manager and clicking on the name of your browser in the list of Applications or Processes.
Next, click on “End Task.” When your browser closes, reopen it, but do NOT ask to restore your previous session.
If your computer is locked, you can download the Microsoft Safety Scanner from a “clean, non-infected PC,” Microsoft suggests.
Copy that file to a blank CD or USB drive and place the device into the infected computer.
Then, try to restart your PC in safe mode. (Go to microsoft.com to find directions on this process; it varies based on which version of Windows is being used.)
Once you’re in the safe mode, run the Microsoft Safety Scanner.
If you’re unable to complete the safety scanner process, you may have to rely on Windows Defender Offline, which can also be found on the Internet.
If you’re unfamiliar with either of these methods, contact a qualified computer technician to help you get rid of the problem.