In the computer virus world ransomware has exploded in popularity, becoming the number one type of malware as of early 2016, and it has only grown since. What exactly is it?
Ransomware is software that uses a password to encrypt files on a computer (essentially this scrambles the file data, so it can’t be used or viewed by anyone who doesn’t know the password). The software then displays a message to the owner of the computer letting them know they have been hacked and offering to give the password—for a sizeable price (usually 1 bitcoin: digital currency valued at $1008 each as of this article). Those who don’t pay—don’t get their files back. Family photos, work documents, financials, everything is gone forever.
So what can be done? First and foremost, always back up your files on a regular basis. This is a good policy for a lot of reasons, but it is also the best way to take the teeth out of the ransomware threat. Secondly, prevention is the best way to avoid the issue. Like any other virus ransomware needs to get on your system in order to do damage, so follow online safety best practices: don’t click on strange links, don’t open attachments that you weren’t expecting.
If your system has been infected by ransomware, don’t despair. There is a chance the version of ransomware used is one that has been reversed by security researchers (the good guys). Upload one of the files to nomoreransom.org (or similar) and see if there is a decryption tool or password known.