Don't Become a Victim: A Comprehensive Guide to Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a common threat that can significantly harm individuals, businesses, and even governments. A ransomware attack is when malicious software is used to encrypt files on a user's device and then demands money in exchange for the decryption key. This software is often times spread through phishing emails, fake software updates, or even through USB devices. Once it has infected a machine, it encrypts the files on the system leaving the owner with a pop-up message demanding payment. In this article, we will discuss in detail what a ransomware attack is, how it works, and how to prevent it.

## How Ransomware Works

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files on a user’s system, demanding payment to regain access to the data. Adversaries use various techniques, including social engineering tactics to deceive users into downloading or installing ransomware. Once ransomware is installed on a user’s system, it quickly spreads throughout the entire network, encrypting files it finds on disk drives, network drives, and even cloud-based storage systems. It then displays a message demanding a ransom payment from the user in exchange for the decryption key.

## Different Types of Ransomware

There are several types of ransomware. The most famous is CryptoLocker, which was first discovered in 2013 and performs its encryption offline. Another type is WannaCry, which was a worldwide virus that infected computers in May 2017, exploiting a vulnerability in the Windows operating system. These different strains of malware encrypt files, making them inaccessible to the user.

## How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware can be prevented by following some best practices.

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### Keep Software up to Date

Keeping your software up to date can prevent many cyberattacks, including ransomware. Software that is outdated can leave a business vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Ensure that your operating system, applications, and all software versions are up to date.

### Educate Employees

One way to prevent ransomware is through education. Employees should be trained on how to recognize phishing attacks, fake updates, or suspicious files in email attachments. They should also be advised to use strong and unique passwords and not to share passwords with anyone.

### Backup Files Regularly

Regular backups of crucial files can help in providing a quick recovery in case of ransomware attacks. Storing the backups in secure locations away from the primary network is recommended for easy recovery.

### Use Antivirus Software

It is critical to use up-to-date antivirus software to protect computer systems from various threats. The software can help to identify and block any suspicious activity from malicious sources. It’s essential to keep the antivirus software updated with regular virus definitions to remain protected from the latest forms of malware.

### Use firewalls and VPNs

Firewalls and virtual private networks (VPNs) play a crucial role in defending against external attacks. VPNs can provide secure internet connections while firewalls monitor all the traffic that enters into the network, distinguishing potentially hazardous activities.

## Real-Life Examples of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have left many individuals and businesses devastated, and some have had to pay the ransom money to gain access to their data.

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### Hospital Ransomware Attack

In May 2017, a ransomware attack hit the UK's National Health Service (NHS), with WannaCry encrypting dozens of hospitals’ systems and data. The hospital had to cancel numerous procedures, and patients were turned away from emergency rooms. The ransomware attackers demanded $300 in Bitcoin to unlock hospitals' systems. Some hospitals had to pay the ransom to regain access to their files, and the total damage caused by the attack was $92 million.

### City of Baltimore Malware Attack

In May 2019, the city of Baltimore was hit by a ransomware attack that disrupted city services for several weeks. On May 7th, the attackers used the EternalBlue exploit to compromise several systems. This attack prevented residents from paying water bills, parking tickets, and other city services. The attackers demanded a ransom of $75,000, which the city refused to pay, and eventually, it ended up costing over $18 million to recover and rebuild affected systems.

## Conclusion

Ransomware attackers use various techniques to deceive users into downloading or installing malware. Once on a user’s system, ransomware encrypts files making them inaccessible, and a ransom demand pops up, demanding a payment. Every day, the threat of ransomware is increasing, and it’s important to follow simple cybersecurity best practices to prevent ransomware attacks. Regular backups of critical files, the use of antivirus software, and keeping software up-to-date can prevent such attacks and safeguard a user or business's operations, credibility, and clients'. It’s important to understand the threat of ransomware, taking every necessary step to prevent it from ruining lives and businesses.

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