Advait Author of Everyday Cybersecurity, a blog aimed at creating awareness about Security and Privacy.

Ransomware Explained

If you have paid any attention to the news in the past few weeks, chances are that you have heard about Ransomware attacks and how they are on the rise all across the globe.

But the news only talks about isolated incidents and you may be wondering what Ransomware exactly is and how it operates? So lets get right into learning more

What is Ransomware?

If you have ever watched a crime thriller movie, chances are that you are familiar with what a hostage situation means. Antagonist gets hold of someone important and demands “ransom” (read: mostly a lot of money) in exchange of their safe return.

Ransomware works in the exact same way. In its simplest form, Ransomware is a piece of computer program that holds your data as a hostage. This results in you losing access to your data. The bad guys (the antagonist of our movie) who are using that computer program then demand money from you in exchange of access to your data

How does it work?

The most common technique used by ransomware is encrypting user data so that it becomes unreadable.

What does that mean? Let’s take a look

Consider you have a word document titled “hello.txt” which has the text “Hello, this is a sample file created by user A”. In a normal scenario you can double click on this file and read the text inside. When Ransomware encrypts the same file, you will not be able to read the exact content of that file and instead you will see some gibberish text.

In some cases the Ransomware can prevent you from opening files altogether.

So either by making files look like gibberish or by making them inaccessible, the bad guys have made the data useless to you

How do we keep ourselves out of harms way?

Now that we have understood what it is and how it works let’s look at what defenses or options we have available to deal with it. I’ll keep the tips simple and targeted towards everyday users (because that’s who this blog is for 😉 )

The famous proverb prevention is better than cure holds true even in the case of Ransomware. The most common method the bad guys use to infect everyday users is phishing. I wrote another blog post about what phishing is and how to avoid it. Do give it a read to understand how to identify and protect yourself against phishing

Regularly backup your critical data

If you have important data on your computer, make sure you are periodically copying it to a different location like an external hard drive or in your email provider’s storage (sometimes referred to as “cloud backup”). This is a good practice in general and the most critical defense in case you do get infected

What if you still get infected?

We all know that mistakes happen and we click on something we shouldn’t have and now all our data is up for a toss. If at all it happens, you might see a message like this one

ransomware - data encrypted
Image courtesy: Trend Micro

First and foremost, do not panic! Remember that paying the money or doing whatever that is they are asking does not guarantee that you will get your data back

It is best to consider your data lost in such a scenario. This is why the backups mentioned earlier are so critical. If you have all the important documents or data backed up, you can always erase everything on your machine to get rid of the Ransomware and start afresh

In the worst case scenario if you do not have backups, you will likely lose all your data. But it might be worth checking resources such as no more ransom

In any case it is not recommended that you try to pay the amount. You have already lost your data and by deciding to pay you are risking your money as well.

In Conclusion

We briefly looked at what Ransomware is and some simple ways in which you can avoid being a victim. Remember, the biggest thing that can save you is being vigilant and thinking before you take any action in your day to day activities on the internet

That’s it for now. Hope you learned a bit more about Ransomware and have a few tips under your belt to stay safe on the internet. If you enjoyed reading this and found it helpful, please share with your friends and family to educate them and help them be safe as well!