A Comprehensive Ransomware Guide Updated for 2019

How much do you know about ransomware? If you’re not a techie guy, then the answer is most likely not enough. That’s why we’ve written this ransomware guide to provide you with all the information you need on ransomware. This includes crucial details like symptoms of ransomware and measures that you can take to protect your device from it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual or an organization. If you use the Internet then you need to make cybersecurity a priority. Whether you connect through a handheld mobile device, IoT appliance, laptop, tablet or a good old-fashioned PC, you will always be vulnerable to attacks.

According to antivirus security software company Avast, they blocked 35 billion PC cybersecurity attacks in 2018 alone.

This is in addition to 208 million attacks directed at Android mobile devices. On both occasions, ransomware was the biggest threat

What is Ransomware?

what is ransomware

We’ll start our ransomware guide with a definition of ransomware. In a nutshell, ransomware is malicious software whose intention is to essentially freeze all activity and functionality on your device. That way, the perpetrator can hold you hostage and demand a hefty ransom in exchange for unlocking your device.

Once installed, ransomware encrypts your files, making it impossible to access them. This means you won’t be able to access your videos, photos, documents, or accounting files. Cybercriminals use this technology to demand ransom (often in the form of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin) in exchange for decrypting your files.

Ransomware first reared its head in 1989 when it mainly spread through the use of shared floppy disks. Nowadays, it’s much easier to spread ransomware through open-source software that can be hidden in a number of different ways.

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How Can You Get Ransomware?

This ransomware guide wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t touch on the different ways through which device users can be vulnerable to attacks. Your device can get infected by opening unsolicited emails and clicking on an infected attachment within the said email. You may have heard about this malicious spam. It almost always involves the use of infected Word or PDF documents.

Malspam hackers leverage the power of social engineering to find the right people to trick into clicking on certain links. Or open infected email attachments. Sometimes these seem very legitimate. It might look like it comes from a trusted friend or an official institution that you have dealings with. This is known as social engineering and it’s a very dangerous form of attack.

Next, you have malvertising which has grown in popularity since 2016. This is characterized by the distribution of malware through online advertising methods. It can happen without you even knowing about it.

What does malvertising look like? Most of the time it comes in the form of ad banners that appear in the most legitimate-looking website and once you click on, it redirects you to illegitimate servers. Sometimes, malvertising can force you to leave a website without even clicking on the bait link.

Oftentimes, hackers combine malvertising with ransomware by collecting user data and using it to hold device owners ransom. At this point, the hacker will probably demand large amounts of money in exchange for your own data.

Malvertising can enter your device through an invisible webpage element or an infected iFrame. iFrames work by forcibly redirecting you to an infected landing page. This is where you’ll find malicious code ready to attack your system through a well-built exploit kit. This method is often referred to as a drive-by-download because of how quickly and stealthily it happens.

Are Ransomware a Virus?

ransomware tutorial

Next on our ransomware guide, we’ll deal with the distinction between viruses and ransomware. Ransomware is one of the most common types of viruses that infect people daily. This word is often used interchangeably with other malware types.

However, what most people don’t understand is that a virus is a very specific type of malware. Other types include things like ransomware, spyware, Trojan horses and worms. Each type has its own goals and will wreak different types of damage on users’ devices and online accounts.

Worms have the ability to replicate your PC’s performance and they can significantly slow down your device. As the name implies, viruses are means to infect the device, damage the files within and finally spread onto other devices within your network. Trojan horses, on the other hand, can create an illegal backdoor. Hackers use this backdoor to access your computer and steal your personal data.

Hackers typically use ransomware to extract money from the device owner. So, ransomware won’t necessarily damage your PC or affect its performance. But it’s meant to convince you to pay a certain amount in exchange for the decryption key so you can access your files.

PC Ransomware

Our ransomware guide will address the effect of ransomware on PC devices. Ransomware is another common type of online threat that affects thousands of individual users and businesses. Some of the most common targets include government agencies, airports hospitals, and major corporations.

Hackers primarily target people that use PC devices. This is because they know which buttons to press within the Windows OS in order to infiltrate the device.

WannaCry is one of the most well-known occurrences of ransomware. Its biggest attack to date happened in May of 2017 when it spread over 100 million users worldwide.

Creators of WannaCry were able to infiltrate these many devices by exploiting the EternalBlue bug. This is a bug that the Windows OS is vulnerable to. It allows the hacker to execute the code via a Printer Sharing and Windows File request.

The worst part is that Microsoft distributed an Eternal Blue patch just two months prior to the attack. This means most people hadn’t updated their devices yet otherwise they would evade the attack.

Keep in mind that EternalBlue is a common weakness within the Windows OS ecosystem. It dates back to the XP operating system which has since been retired. That’s why Windows XP users suffered the most from the WannaCry attack.

Mobile Device Ransomware

Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly common. Research shows that Android device users experienced 50 more attacks between 2016 and 2017 alone. Most of the time, ransomware attacks enter through a third-party app that’s shared between users. Other times it can also be hidden within legitimate apps downloaded from the Google Play Store.

Apple Ransomware

Just because you’re using an Apple device doesn’t mean you’re protected from ransomware. In 2017, some of the world’s leading online security firms discovered spyware and ransomware programs that were specifically developed for use on Apple devices. Word on the street was that it was created by skilled software engineers who specialized in the OS X.

This spyware and ransomware were so common that hackers were getting them for free on the dark web. Many were using them to access iCloud accounts. Some were even locking people out of their devices by infiltrating the Find My iPhone service.

4 Types of Ransomware

ransomware attacks

This wouldn’t be a ransomware guide if we didn’t give you a definition of the different types of ransomware.

Ransomware comes in different forms. But the one similarity between them is that the end goal is to request a ransom. However, there have been instances where hackers used ransomware as a smokescreen to hide other forms of cyberattack.

• Encryptor Malware

Encryptor ransomware works by encrypting your files so you’re unable to access basic things like your documents, videos, and images. You’ll be able to log into your computer and see your files. But you won’t be able to open any of them. One of the most popular examples of encryptor malware is the WannaCry ransomware.

• Locker

This type of ransomware is designed to completely lock you out of your computer. This is to the point that you can’t log in at all. An example of this would be the Petya ransomware which has the ability to encrypt the master file on your hard drive in order to complexly lock your computer.

• Doxware

Doxware downloads make copies of the sensitive files in your computer. The attacker then uses these copies to hold you ransom while threatening to publish this data online. Most people usually pay up for fear of having their entire personal life plastered online for all to see.

• Scareware

This is a counterfeit software program that’ll tell you that your computer has issues and that you need to pay the hacker to fix said issues. Some types of scareware can even lock your computer or bombard your screen with fake alerts and pop-ups until you pay up.

There’s no denying that ransomware is becoming increasingly common and this is mostly because it’s easy for hackers to access and execute. According to data from Avast, most ransomware attacks come from the same original source or “strain.”

Hackers aren’t resting on their laurels though. They’re constantly working to develop new code which means even more complex encryptions and dynamic ransomware.

How Can Your Device Get Infected?

hacked phones

Next on our ransomware guide is information on how you can get infected. What makes ransomware so dangerous is the fact that it can literally attack your computer without clicking or downloading anything. While a virus needs you to open an infected email or click on an infected banner link, ransomware can easily infect a vulnerable computer. This is without the user taking any other action.

• Exploit Kits

Cybercriminals use exploit kits to disseminate prewritten code and exploit vulnerabilities such as EternalBlue. As such, this ransomware is versatile enough to infiltrate any network-connected device. So long as it’s operating on out-of-date software, a device is vulnerable to attack. The single symptom of an exploit kit attack is being locked out of accessing your files.

• Social Engineering

Social engineering is also referred to as phishing and it misleads device users to download malware contained in an infected web link or email attachment. The email carrying this malware usually looks legitimate which is why people are constantly getting duped into clicking on it.

The emails usually come with a file extension or an attachment with a Doc, Excel or PDF file. The infection usually begins from the moment you download the file and the ransomware will hide in your computer for extended periods of time. This is why it can be extremely difficult to find its origins.

• Malvertising

Next on our ransomware guide we’re going to look at malvertising. This infection method involves the distribution of malware through a specific advertising network. The problem with malvertising is that it has a way of infiltrating through a legitimate website. So, you never know which ad link has an infection or not.

Drive-by downloads are a type of infected files that can enter your computer without you taking any action. Illegitimate websites often infiltrate outdated browsers and apps in order to download infected malware without your knowledge.

Ransomware starts by changing file structures so that you’re unable to access or even use them as you normally would. The hacker then uses encryption to lock the communication channel so that it only opens between the command computer and the malware. The encryption is the only mechanism that can decrypt information and uncover the decryption key required to open up access to your files in their original format.

Once the hacker has secured the files and locked you out of your computer, you’ll see a ransom note on your screen. This includes details on how much the hacker wants to pay in exchange for decrypting your files, how much time you have left to transfer the funds and where you should send them. If you miss the deadline then the ransom price will go up.

You’ll also receive an error message whenever you try to open an encrypted file. The message will tell you that the file cannot be located or that it’s invalid or corrupt.

How to Get Rid of Ransomware?

how go get rid of ransomware

Removing ransomware isn’t particularly difficult. The first thing you can do is place your computer in Safe Mode. This is especially important if the hacker has used encryption ransomware. It means you can still open your computer and scan it with antivirus software so you can delete the malware.

However, if the hacker used locker ransomware then you won’t be able to enter your computer at all. You’ll have to explore alternatives such as doing a System Restore or run a system scan using an antivirus contained in a bootable disc or external drive. These methods will allow Windows to see the download location.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to restore your Windows device:

Windows 7 System Restore:

  1. Long press F8 while your PC is booting up, and you’ll see the Advanced Boot Options menu.
  2. Select Repair Your Computer option and hit Enter.
  3. Log into your computer using your Windows credentials.
  4. Choose System Restore.

Windows 8 and Windows 10 System Restore:

  1. Long press the Shift key while your computer is booting up. If your device doesn’t take you to the recovery screen then you should restart.
  2. Select Troubleshoot
  3. Visit Advanced Options.
  4. Click System Restore.

Android Devices

If you’re using an Android device then you should follow these steps to get rid of the malware. It starts by going into Safe Mode so you can uninstall any suspicious apps.

1. Boot Android into Safe Mode:

Long press the power button for a couple of seconds until the menu shows up. Select Power Off. You should see a dialog window that asks you to reboot your device in Safe Mode. Choose this option and hit OK.

If this doesn’t fix the problem, then you should just switch off the device. Leave it for several seconds before you switch it on again. Long press the Menu button, the Volume Up and Volume Down buttons at the same time until the Safe Mode option appears on your screen.

2. Uninstall Unknown Apps

While in Safe Mode, click on Settings, select Application manager or Apps. Then search for suspicious apps so you can uninstall them one by one.

Mac Devices

Ransomware isn’t necessarily common among Mac devices but it does happen sometimes. You can easily remove it using the same Safe Mode process and remove the malware from there.

  • Restart your Mac computer by going on Safe Mode. Long press the Shift key once you hear the startup tone. Let go of the Shift key when you see the Apple logo. Then wait for the Safe Boot to appear on the startup screen.
  • Remove the malware using antivirus software.

How to Recover Your Files?

It may not be enough to remove the ransomware from your computer because you probably still won’t be able to unlock the encrypted files. Depending on the extent of the encryption, you might find that it’s tough to even recover your data.

However, if the attacker uses basic ransomware encryption then you can use Defencebyte’s ransomware decryption tools. But if you’ve been infected by something more evolved like the WannaCry ransomware then you might find it doubly hard to unlock your files.

While paying your ransomware may seem like the most obvious solution, we don’t recommend this at all. That’s because attackers will see it as a sustainable way to generate an income if everyone just paid the ransom. They’ll keep creating even more ransomware.

Also, most attackers will keep asking for more money after you’ve paid the initial ransom to the point that the whole situation turns into an endless loop of extortion. Plus, it might make you an easy target because if one hacker can get you to pay then others can too.

Keep in mind that some ransomware forms are so poorly coded that they literally damage the files for good. This is to the point where it’s impossible to recover them. Petna is a good example of this type of ransomware. If you get infected by it then you can say goodbye to your files.

What About Prevention?

Prevention is better than cure and the same principle applies to ransomware protection. This ransomware guide wouldn’t be complete without addressing this.

1. Update All Software

While Windows system update messages can be annoying at times, it’s important to pay attention to them. The same goes for the update messages you get for you IoT and mobile devices as well. A lot of these system updates come with essential security patches that you need to protect your device from malware and ransomware specifically.

Those using older Window OS and XP versions are particularly vulnerable to attacks. This is why it’s important to only use updated operating systems. Make sure to update your plug-ins, web browsers and all of your computer software as well.

2. Back Up Everything

Another important protection measure you should take is to regularly backup your system on cloud storage, a NAS drive, a USB hard drive or an external hard drive. If you don’t have that much space then you should at least back up your most treasured and important files.

The best part is that storage is readily available, cheaper and easier to access nowadays than it was back in the day. You also have access to a plethora of cloud-based storage options including OneDrive, MEGA, Google Drive and Dropbox.

3. Install an Antivirus

Defencebyte is one of the best antivirus software providers because it comes with protection from malware including ransomware. This includes endpoint protection software that helps to keep you protected no matter what your budget is. The great thing about Defencebyte is that it’s constantly updating its protection methods and protocols to deal with the ever-evolving tactics used by cybercriminals

4. Don’t Fall Prey of Social Engineering

This one’s pretty obvious. No-one should ever open a link or click on a file from an unknown source. If you ever see an email with a weird attachment then you should instantly delete it.

You should also confirm with the sender if the attachment is legitimate. This is just in case it comes from a source that you’re familiar with. You should also look out for messages aimed at tricking you into visiting malicious websites.

They can come from social media posts, texts or even legitimate-looking emails. If you’re entering a website that requires personal credentials, then you should make sure the site is HTTPS enabled. You’ll know it’s safe if it has the green-padlock symbol next to the address.

Did you enjoy this ransomware guide? Let us know if you learned something new in the comments section below.

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