How to keep your PC free from ransomware
Ransomware is a relatively new type of malware, which has a single purpose: to force you to pay money to hackers. Yes, I am talking about your hard-earned cash, which goes straight into the banking accounts of the bad guys. There are free applications like this that can keep your computer safe, but (obviously) they don't have a 100% success rate.
Learning how ransomware works
But how does ransomware work in the first place, and what can you do to protect your computer from those evil attackers? Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have all the information that's needed to keep your computer clean.
At a basic level, ransomware works by locking your computer files, and then asks for ransoms that usually range from $50 to $500.
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If you thought that ransomware is created by script kiddies, you are being misinformed. Several criminal organizations create, and then spread ransomware, with the goal of financing other operations.
Sometimes, things aren't as bad as they look, even though they are scary for the end-users. Some of the rogue applications will only display a pop-up message which states that your computer is infected, and you need to do something to clean it up. Often times, you will be given a link to download a so-called antivirus, which will actually install the "real" ransomware application.
If you've got a commercial antivirus, it should be able to clean the infection right there and then.
However, other types of ransomware plug deeply into Windows' files, intercepting the operating system's calls, just like rootkits. This type of ransomware is much harder to clean, requiring one of the top cloud-based antiviruses, and in some cases even a Windows reinstallation.
To give you an example, CryptoLocker starts encrypting your files as soon as it manages to get its way into your system, and then asks $300 in exchange for the decryption key. My computer has never been hit by CryptoLocker, but from what I know those guys actually send you a key that works, allowing you to regain access to your files.
There is never a guarantee that the bad guys will be honest with you and help you recover those files, though. So, resist the temptation to pay the ransom money. Things change when your computer holds precious data, which is much more valuable than the asked-for ransom money.
Protecting from ransomware
Okay, so now we know how ransomware works. How can we protect our computers from it?
Having a good antivirus is the first key factor when it comes to preventing a ransomware attack. Resist the temptation to use a free antivirus! You should always install one of the best rated, paid-for antiviruses. This independent website highlights the best antiviruses out there, testing them in real life conditions.
However, even the best antivirus in the world won't keep your computer protected if you continue to open malware files. Often times, ransomware is disguised as an email attachment that comes from a person you may know. Other popular ransomware sources are websites that contain pirated software, and so on. Don't ever open an attachment if it comes from an unknown person. Additionally, each attachment, even a legitimate one, should be scanned before being opened.
Some people will try to get your computer infected by setting up website pages that run malicious code whenever a person accesses them. So, don't ever click an email link, unless you are 100% sure that it is a safe one.
Finally, be sure to keep the operating system and all the installed applications up to date. Windows is patched regularly, and each new update also fixes serious security problems. The same thing is true for all the installed programs. Also, all the applications which are known targets for hackers should be uninstalled.
If your computer is attacked, it is easy to restore its data if you back it up regularly. This way, when bad things happen, you will be able to clean your computer without effort, by using a previously stored system image. Windows makes it easy to create system images, and several other companies have created fully functional applications as well. Some of them are even free!
Of course, system image backups can use quite a bit of hard disk space. If that is a problem, you can only back up your personal files and be done with it. However, if your computer gets infected, you will have to spend more time reinstalling Windows, installing all the needed applications, copying the data back, and so on. Since external hard drives are quite cheap these days and come in large capacities, you should definitely invest your money into a 2TB-4TB external drive, which will be able to store dozens of different system images.
I hope that you have a clear picture concerning ransomware now. Hopefully, by following the practices that were highlighted above, it will be easy for you to fight back.