We hate to make sweeping generalizations, but we feel pretty confident when we say that most people know what a computer virus is. However, there are so many different types of viruses out there that beyond the broad stroke definition things may get a little bit more dicey. In the last few years, one of the phrases that has come up again and again in the IT world and in the news is “ransomware.” Casual computer users are most likely aware that ransomware is a type of virus, and that it’s something they really don’t want to deal with - but what is it exactly?
In this post we’re going to take a deep dive into ransomware and find out.
What Is Ransomware?
For all intents and purposes, ransomware is a type of malware that holds your systems hostage. Unlike a virus, which infiltrates your files and gathers information or writes over it, ransomware encrypts your files. Theoretically, your files are still there, but you have to pay a ransom to recover them. However, there’s no guarantee you will get your files back. After all, you’re dealing with a cyber criminal in the first place, not exactly an upstanding, law abiding citizen.
So far, ransomware attacks have proven not only to be annoying and costly in some cases, but also life-threatening as in the recent WannaCry attack.. Hospitals worldwide were hit with this attack preventing practitioners from being able to access crucial patient information.
How Do They Infect Computers?
Ransomware attacks are a prime example of why patching and updating your systems is absolutely imperative. These attacks typically happen because a vulnerability in the systems are exploited. This means that even if you’re running antivirus and antimalware software, it could still sneak through. The WannaCry ransomware, in particular, exploited a Windows vulnerability and anyone who hadn’t installed the security patch was at high risk . According to AVG, Windows XP users were hit particularly hard because Microsoft had stopped providing patches for that version of their operating system three years earlier. Once the attack became widespread, Microsoft pushed out a patch for Windows XP for some, unfortunately, it was too little too late.
How Can You Prevent a Ransomware Attack?
- The absolute first line of defense against ransomware attacks is patching and updating your systems.
- From there, you’ll want to ensure that you’re running adequate antivirus and antimalware software.
- It’s important that you implement security awareness training within your organization. Your employees need to know what to do if they receive a strange link, or even a phone call from someone claiming to be from their IT department. If they’re asked to give passwords or personal information over the phone or via email, or told to click a link to install anything that they aren’t 100% certain of its origin, they should NOT take any of those actions and immediately report it to their IT department.
- Finally, operating behind a strong firewall provides immense protection. Once a ransomware attack has found its way onto your systems it can move quickly, encrypting every file on the server before anyone notices.
If you’re interested in learning more about how working with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) will affect your business - and how it can help streamline your security - check out our new ebook What To Expect When You’re Expecting IT.