TECH

WannaCry: What Is Ransomware And How To Protect Yourself From It

It's not just the NHS that can fall foul of this nasty software

16/05/2016 11:09 | Updated 15 May 2017

Ransomware is fast becoming one of the easiest ways for cybercriminals to take your money.

You only have to look at the scale and severity of the ‘Wanna Decrypter’ ransomware which hit countless NHS hospitals and affected organisations in over 74 countries.

Appearing as an inconspicuous link in an email or in a pop-up this form of malware can be one of the easiest to fall foul of and yet one of the hardest to get rid of.

What is ransomware?

Once installed on either a computer or (more increasingly) a mobile device they can take all your files and lock them away, effectively holding them ransom until you pay the hackers a fee.

Ranging from £200 all the way up to £1000 these fees are almost always required in Bitcoin and are always priced in such a bracket that many customers will feel they’re forced to take this one off hit.

Senior Security Researcher, Kaspersky Lab David Emm recommends that you should never pay these ransoms. Not only do they validate ransomware as a business model but there’s absolutely no guarantee that you won’t be hit again by a different piece of software.

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So how does ransomware work?

Typically the software is hidden inside an email. Once the email is opened the virus is installed onto the computer, it will then either search for important personal information or simply lockdown the entire computer.

Once installed the software then demands that the user pays a ransom and in return the victim regains control of their computer.

While it’s most typically found on computers and laptops there are increasing reports of ransomware being found on smartphones.

One such piece of software uses the front-facing camera on the phone to take a picture of the victim, it then locks the phone claiming that the person was viewing child pornography. 

The contents of the smartphone is then completely locked unless a fee of $500 is paid.

How to protect against ransomware?

As Newsy’s video above explains, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself.

The most obvious is keeping a close eye on your incoming emails. While spam filters can do a lot of the groundwork it still takes vigilance to make sure that you don’t accidentally open a particularly well-hidden spam email.

Secondly there are now a host of programs and apps which can protect both your phone and computer from these emails.

Apps like Focus by Firefox can help protect against unwanted pop-ups on your smartphone while also speeding up your browser.

Focus isn’t just an ad-blocker though, it’s also capable of preventing potentially harmful pop-ups from appearing and then subsequently asking for access to your device.

Then there’s ‘No More Ransom’. This is a website which offers two forms of help. The first is a comprehensive library of information on how to protect yourself from ransomware, what it is and how your PC is likely to be infected by it.

No More Ransom

The second is a far more powerful tool, and it allows you to upload the affected files upon which the organisation will scan it, detect the kind of malware that’s installed and then see if it can be removed using the 160,000 decryption keys which have been collected.

This is an incredibly powerful tool, and you’d expect as much when you think that it has been built by Interpol, Intel Security and Kaspersky Labs.

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