What is ransomware and how can I protect my family?
3 experts and 2 parents have answered
Ransomware is a term for a relatively new class of 'malware' - software designed to harm your computer, such as a virus or trojan horse. Computer viruses can be annoying and harmful to your data, but ransomware goes one step further. Its purpose is to hold your computer hostage until you pay a fee.
Essentially, ransomware is a very modern form of blackmail. It comes in two main flavours - the kind that encrypts your files to render them unreadable, then offers to unlock them if you pay a fee and the kind that locks your whole PC, often claiming to represent a law enforcement agency that demands a 'fine' because (they will say) you have been accessing something illegal.
Needless to say, there is no guarantee that paying will achieve the desired result and the police recommend you do not part with any cash or bank details.
Although the consequences on an infection can be dire, protecting yourself against Ransomware is not much different to fighting off any 'normal' computer virus or malware. As well as running up-to-date anti-virus software you should be careful when downloading anything from the internet, especially from a site you don’t trust. Never install any program unless you have a good idea where it came from and keep your web browser up to date to fix any bugs that might allow nasty software to sneak in while you are browsing.
Should you get infected, try not to panic. In the UK, report the crime at www.actionfraud.police.uk who may be able to advise you. Virus scanner and removal tools, such as the free F-Secure scanner may be able to remove the infection and unlock your PC. Encrypted files may be difficult or impossible to retrieve, so plan ahead and take regular backups of anything you value.
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A good chunk of ransomware comes from people clicking on links sent from websites or Trojans from on other people's infected sites. For me as a golden rule I never click on links unless I have specifically ask for it. Rather than clicking on the link goto the site directly. Some of the other suggestions are spot on and do a Google search if you get out by a specific version as usually there will be steps to clear it and most off all don't panic!
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One option for avoidance is to use an operating system, such as Linux, that reduces your chance of being infected. The use of the alternatives also avoids other similar scams, such as the cold call "warning" you your computer is infected with malware, the caller then either charges you to clean it or actually infects your computer with your help.
My aunt, then 86, whose new computer runs Linux, was contacted by one of the latter scams. They never thought to ask if she was running Windows or not. They tried for 20 minutes before giving up...
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As describe by another poster, Ransomware is a virus/Trojan which locks and/or encrypts your system, and demands money transfer in order to release it.
It often masquerades as a Police/FBI alert and a "fine" for your activities.
Protection is the same as any malware, a good antivirus, security updates, mind where you go and be careful of trusting links even if they purport to be from a friend. It appears the most prevalent examples are spread by bogus emails, so beware of links or attachments in emails - treat as unsafe unless verifiably genuine.
For the encrypting ones, backups are also a help - sometimes files can be recovered using the previous version dialog if they are present in a restore point, but you can't bank on it.
Another tool which can add some further resistance is:
This adds registry entries to block the starting of programs from places that are only ever used by malware, and a second option which will stop things being run directly from zip/rar etc. - which is usually a bad idea anyway
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Good information and advice above, but one very important and essential piece missing.
Like death and taxes, data loss is one of life's inevitabilities. That could be from malware of all forms, user error, or simple hardware failure.
Having a backup strategy you adhere to is the only thing that will protect you against this, but it's the one thing almost no one does.
There are lots of choices these days, from online services to external hard drives, back up your data regularly, in multiple places and if the inevitable happens you won't be at the ransom of anyone.
The attackers are becoming smarter and at some point they will get through, despite your best efforts. Accept this, do everything to prevent it, but never rely on what you do, or the anti malware software you use, it has flaws just like any piece of software does.
For the most valuable things in your life, like photos, back then up everywhere; you can get free online storage at Picasaweb / Google Drive, Windows Skydrive, Drop box, Box, Ubuntu one, Bitcasa and the most generous of all, flickr, where currently you get 1 terabyte of storage totally free.
Bitcasa is particularity neat, paying accounts get totally unlimited (infinite) storage and it just appears as a huge hard drive on your PC. You can automatically mirror data to the drive, for a real set and forget backup process, with all data fully encrypted at your PC, before it leaves.
The other big advantage of this is all of your stuff is available anywhere you can get an internet connection, and there's some get mobile apps too!