20/05/2016 16:08 BST

Ransomware Criminals Hand Over Master Key After Turning A New Leaf

It seems they've turned over a new leaf.

The hackers responsible for one of the most dangerous pieces of ransomware have seemingly had a change of heart after handing control of the virus to security experts.

Teslacrypt was well known in the security industry as one of the most powerful pieces of ransomware after it became 'unhackable' earlier this year.

tonymelony via Getty Images

The extraordinary event took place after a researcher at ESET decided to try their luck and just ask for the 'master key'.

Much to their surprise they got a response, apparently the creators of the virus were 'wrapping up' their activities and so decided to just hand over the key.

This allowed ESET to then create a free fix.

ESET were keen to point out that ransomware is still one of the largest threats to people's personal data.

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.