Defending Against Malware
There are a variety of threats facing IT infrastructure today, ranging from social engineering to nefarious malware. But none are quite as deadly as ransomware, a nasty third-party attack which can upend entire networks, steal valuable data, and cripple an enterprise. One of the factors making ransomware so deadly is its permanence. There are only a handful of methods which can effectively remove ransomware from a system. This means an individual has few options to deal with it, usually resulting in a format of their network or HDD.
The best method for protection, then, is a good defense. In this article, we’ll go over several strategies you can utilize to protect yourself and your infrastructure from ransomware.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malicious program which injects itself into a system via security flaw. Once installed, ransomware encrypts the system – either in part or whole. Once said parts are encrypted, users cannot access it unless a ransom – typically a message accompanying the malware – is paid. Ransomware can target anyone, from an individual, small business, or large company.
Types of Ransomware
Ransomware shares the same goal: to hijack and encrypt data. There are several variations, however, to how ransomware works:
Locker Ransomware – Installed on a system, PC, or mobile devices, locker ransomware locks a user out of accessing the device it’s installed on. Users typically cannot use any of the features of their device, and often require re-installation of the operating system to fix the issue.
Encryption Ransomware – As mentioned, this targets parts of a PC and encrypts them, preventing use.
Deletion Ransomware – This strain of ransomware encrypts parts of a system and then threatens to delete them over a period of time if the ransom is not paid.
Protecting Against Ransomware
As mentioned, ransomware removal can prove challenging. As such, an effective strategy is to adopt proactive defense measures and a good defense. There are a variety of ransomware removal tools, but their success is not guaranteed.
Here are a few things you can do to better protect yourself against ransomware.
1. Avoid Suspicious Links
Whether introduced by email, message, or website, never click an external link you don’t trust. Links can lead you to scripts which may attempt to load malware onto your system without you realizing.
2. Ignore Scareware
A method of social engineering, scareware is part of the ransomware attack strategy. Often, it’s a message indicating your information has been ‘hacked’ or ‘stolen,’ either demanding payment or recommending you install a fixer program to solve the issue. Of course, the program installed is the malware, relying on the user to make a snap decision.
3. Backup Files
An essential part of cybersecurity. Whether you’re an individual or a business, all essential files should be protected in an external disc, data center, or cloud. This assures you can still access sensitive information while you isolate the ransomware threat. It also prevents loss of valuable information, the difference between a continuing business and a sunk one.
4. Update Essential Programs
Your operating system and essential software programs should all run the latest version. Ransomware relies on security vulnerabilities to remain effective. As such, keeping all your programs updated reduces the risk a loophole is found, keeping your system(s) safe.
5. Anti-Virus and Firewalls
It goes without saying, but you should have both firewalls and anti-virus running. This will inform you of any potential threats, flag suspicious activity, and overall act as an initial safeguard.
6. Use VPN and Encrypted Connections
If desired, you can also use a virtual private network to encrypt your connection when browsing the web. This is also useful for travel when you use public wi-fi or other unsecured networks. Ransomware attacks rely on stealing login data or other personal info, so encryption is a useful way to prevent this.
7. Raise Staff Awareness
If you’re a business relying on a large IT infrastructure, keep your staff informed of good safety practices. Again, attackers will rely on stealing information like passwords or other crucial data to launch their attack. It’s often human error which bypasses even the strongest security measures, so make sure staff understands the risks associated with ransomware, along with the methods they employ for success.
8. Mind Other Devices
The nasty thing about ransomware is it impacts more than traditional personal computers. Ransomware is also capable of infecting Mac systems and mobile devices too. Therefore, maintain good security practices when using either of these devices, especially the latter. Smartphones sync to a variety of apps and social media, all of which contain vital information. This makes them high-value targets for ransomware, so take precaution as you would with your other systems.
9. Install Script Blockers
Script blocking add-ons for your browser are useful ways to halt potential ransomware attacks, along with other malicious activity. A script-blocker can work with virtually any browser and gives you direct control of what runs on a website. This is useful if you’re uncertain about a particular domain – or if you’ve accidentally clicked on a malicious link.
10. Conduct Stress Tests
As a business, it’s a good idea to stress your cybersecurity infrastructure with false attacks to see how effective your defenses are. You can also simulate what your business does in the event of a successful attack. This will give you a better idea of how weak or strong your defenses are, while also preparing staff. Never adopt a “set it and forget it” mentality, as it’s something malicious third parties rely on to remain effective.
Even with the best intentions, you may not have prevented a ransomware attack. From this point, removing ransomware is difficult, but not impossible. It will greatly depend on the type of ransomware, what was targeted, and what was encrypted.
You should start by running an anti-virus scan to neutralize the ransomware. Your anti-virus program will attempt to locate and quarantine the virus. You can also start the system in safe mode and run the anti-virus program again. If not successful, however, you’ll want to try a ransomware removal tool. A variety of them exists, such as BadBlock, Legion, and FindZip.
If these methods don’t work, you’re likely dealing with the locker variant of ransomware which prevents a system from starting normally. This requires the most aggressive fix, typically a total re-installation of the operating system. You can also attempt a system rollback, restoring it to a point before the ransomware was installed (and this is a good time to set backup versions of your system if not done already). You may also attempt to boot the system into safe-mode from an external SSD or HDD if applicable.
Ultimately, remember to never pay the ransomware demands. You are not guaranteed to have access to your files returned paying malicious third-parties only encourages them to continue developing dangerous code. Creating backups and practicing good security strategies are better alternatives.
Ransomware has grown in effectiveness over the years and remains one of the more dangerous types of malware. While methods do exist to deal with certain ransomware variants, success is not always guaranteed. Therefore, it’s a good idea to follow our guide above and remain mindful of ransomware threats. doing so will protect yourself, your enterprise, and your network from potential attacks.
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