Ransomware – what you need to know and how to stay safe

Ransomware attacks take place on a daily basis and don’t discriminate when it comes to the domain. The medical system, for instance, has fallen victim to a recent ransomware epidemic, with numerous hospitals being required to pay in order to regain access to their precious databases, such as patient records.

Private users, even though not as profitable, are also targeted by the thousands on a daily basis. In the first half of the year, over 4,000 ransomware daily attacks took place worldwide, 3 times more than in 2015.

ransomware-illustration_bun

First things first, though. Let’s begin by defining ransomware. As the name already suggests, it is a type of malware designed to block access to a computer until a sum of money is paid. Companies, as well as private users, can fall victim to such cybercrimes, but the first ones are usually the most targeted since they are more profitable.

However, please note that paying the ransom does not guarantee that users will regain access to their data. It is best not to pay anyone. If your computer gets infected with ransomware, turn it off and disconnect it from the network. Then alert law enforcement and take your computer to a specialist who can remove the virus and give you access to your precious data once more.

But how does it happen?

When a random user (just like you, me or anybody else) clicks on an infected link that he/she may receive by e-mail, malware gains access to that person’s computer. So what kind of e-mails should you be wary of? Well, you should be very careful about shipping notices from delivery companies. If you are not expecting any shipment, then don’t open mails on the subject, or more importantly, don’t click on any suspicious links from within that mail.

But losing access to personal data, like private pictures, music or that novel you’ve been working on is one thing. The stakes are even higher if the computer that gets attacked stores data that’s valuable for an entire company. Or even worse, for an entire country or world. 

To be more precise, I am referring to ransomware in the medical system. It’s hard to understand why someone would want to steal the medical data of thousands, maybe millions of patients out there and then put a price on it, but it happens.

In November 2015 the Cyber Threat Alliance reported over 400,000 ransomware computer systems attacks, which together resulted in $325 million in damages. Recent ransomware attacks on the healthcare system happen as follows: the attackers infect a computer system with a virus that encrypts the files, making them inaccessible, and then demand ransom in Bitcoin to decrypt them. Thus, and again we don’t understand why anyone would do this, a hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) becomes paralyzed, leaving thousands of patients crippled of private information.

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Stay safe from ransomware attacks in a few easy steps

Since it’s better to prevent something than to cure it, here are some tips on how to stay safe from ransomware:

  • Do not open unverified emails or click on the links embedded in them if you do not recognize the sender or find the content there any bit suspicious
  • Do not click on ads you do not trust (some of these may have overpromising messages, include grammar mistakes or have offensive subtext); alternatively, you could use CyberGhost VPN to fully block ads and enjoy a smooth web surfing experience
  • Only install apps and programs from trusted sources
  • Make sure to back up your most important documents; it would be best to use an external hard drive that you regularly update with your most precious information and which you then store in a safe place known only by you; if you want to be extra safe, you can make 3 backup copies in 3 different locations (besides the external hard drive, you could use a cloud backup, or a bootable backup / clone)
  • Make sure you have the latest version of the software you are using to stay protected against the latest vulnerabilities; beware, though, ransomware has found new ways to disguise itself (Fantom Ransomware masquerades as a Windows update, taking advantage of the fact that people try to stay safe by updating their software)
  • Use CyberGhost VPN to prevent spyware, malware, viruses and ransomware.

About the author

Corina Dobre
Corina Dobre

A professional wordsmith, Corina has improved her writing skills through extensive experiences in journalism, advertising and marketing. Curious by nature, she enjoys learning foreign languages and discovering everything, as well as everyone around her.

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