Ransomware Returns: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself

Ransomware Returns: What It Is And How To Protect Yourself

Way back in 2013, malicious software known as ransomware entered into the mainstream as a new threat for businesses and consumers to worry about. While it faded from the mainstream for a little while after that, it’s coming back with a vengeance in 2016, but things are different now. This isn’t an unprecedented threat.

In this article we’ll discuss the best ways to prepare and protect yourself from ransomware infections.

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If you aren’t already familiar, Ransomware earns its name because it typically acts as software that locks up your system and encrypts your data. In many of these cases the only way to move forward is to pay the ransom or replace the drive and lose access to your data forever if you didn’t have it backed up.

While earlier forms of ransomware (such as CryptoLocker) were known for honoring the terms and unlocking the data once the ransom was paid, it should be noted that they can just as easily not do that. The only way to really be safe from ransomware is to prevent it from occurring at all.

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In an ideal world you won’t suffer from a ransomware infection at all. Here’s our best tips for avoiding it.

1. Avoid suspicious emails and links. While curiosity may tempt you, it isn’t worth losing access to your most valuable data or the workings of your computer. Stay far away from spam emails especially, as most modern ransomware uses email as a delivery method.

2. Use Adblockers on untrusted sites. Use ABP or uBlock Origin on your browser of choice. In addition to avoiding being bogged down by ads, you’re closing up another avenue of infection. Definitely consider whitelisting trusted sites, though, like us!

3. Keep plugins updated or stop using them entirely. Flash and Java are notorious at this point for being performance hogs and for having security vulnerabilities. There’s a reason so many tech companies are trying to phase them out. Stop using these plugins if at all possible, but if you must keep them up to date at all times.

4. Install security programs. While antiviruses might help protect you against ransomware in some cases, I recommend Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware. At the time of writing, it’s in a free beta, and it seems to be the most effective at blocking ransomware threats.

Even if you never come across ransomware, you should still be prepared for the worst in case it (or something else) strikes you and your system.

1. Make regular backups. Since most ransomware encrypts your files, you might need to start all over with a new hard drive or SSD. Having safe external backups of your files will do it, too. Cloud solutions like Dropbox can work as well but only if you’re quick about restoring the files.

2. Don’t rely on a single system. My writing on MakeTechEasier and other outlets is what gets me by. Relying on a single computer is dangerous for me as well as other people who rely on technology to do their work or stay in touch with their loved ones. Having a backup machine in case of an emergency is always a good idea, regardless of ransomware concerns.

While it’s true that ransomware can sometimes be removed or unlocked, this isn’t always reliable. It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game between black hat criminals and white hat hackers/tech companies who want to help. Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself is by preparing for the worst case scenario and preventing an infection from occurring in the first place.

But what do you think? Have you had experience with ransomware, or do you know someone who has? Tell us about it in the comments!

13 comments

  1. Be careful with recommending ‘Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware’. It is far from ready for prime time. I made the mistake of installing it, and it screwed up my system completely. It took a long time to get a reply from Malwarebytes, and when it finally came, it was the stupid advice: Don’t trust Beta versions! Of course I knew that already, but I thought I could trust Malwarebytes. That was a bad idea. Fortunately I had an image backup of the system partition.
    I found a forum where a lot of people reported all kinds of problems with that software, but no useful contribution from Malwarebytes to help people solving their problems caused by this ill-fated program.

    • That does sound pretty awful. I’m especially surprised to hear it, Malwarebytes considered. Do you mind showing me that forum so I can find out some more about issues people are having, and add it to the article?

  2. I have Hitman pro with kickstart for removing ransomware and I would like to know if it’s an effective way of dealing with it.

    • From what I can see, it does look like an ideal solution for removing ransomware, but there’s always the chance you could get hit with a newer strain than you expect. It’s good to have something to fall back on, but focus on trying to avoid it if at all possible!

  3. I recommend block all ads, instead of sacrificing plugins. Its the ads that mostly abuse the browser media plugins. If websites block you for having an ad blocker… just boycott them, your safety is more important. More than often an infected advert can be pushed on a trustworthy website, because the website does not do its own banners and ads, it uses third party system for advertsing.

    • I dunno, most modern sites use HTML5 instead of Flash or Java. I’d recommend against those Plugins in general, they’re historically unsafe.

    • I’m sure a few do (I’m aware of at least a few examples that attack Android), but by far the majority attack Windows-based systems.

  4. Let me begin by saying – Ransomeware will never be a problem for me. Let me walk through what would happen IF it managed to get through my defenses and onto my C: drive.
    1. Shut off the computer
    2. Boot with “Parted Magic” – nuke my SSD back to its original factory state.
    3. Drop my backup HDD into the SATA-III docking station built into the top of my towe.
    4. Restart and boot from the HDD I just popped in the top of my case. This gets not only a backup image of my OS but I clone my C: drive to it once a month or so.
    5. Once booted from this old little 2.5″ SATA-II HDD I yanked out of an old netbook I will then old Macrium Reflect and clone this back to the SSD that was and will again be my C: drive.
    6. Restart and bold from the large SSD like nothing ever happened. Because all photos, music, videos and documents are NOT KEPT ON THE C DRIVE EXEPT AS A WORKING COPY. Such as during photo editing. Then they are copied bag to the large storage drive and anything important is also backed up on the 1TB internal HDD in my tower.

    Want to stop losing files and data? STOP KEEPING THEM ON THE SAME DRIVE AS YOUR OS!!! At lease partition than thang.
    AJ

  5. I tried commenting on this earlier from my phone, but… no go. What do I think? You ask. I think the heart of this “problem” is the same problem that causes people to lose data and important files all the time.

    A friend of mine recently said to me “I know they are extremely overpriced. But I’ve never lost any data with Apple.”

    I was very confused by his statement. What was he talking about “lost any data”? I haven’t lost any data with Windows or Linux or any other OS that I can remember.

    And then I realized. He was keeping his “Libraries” on the same drive as his OS. As most people do. Buy a new computer and everything is on the C: drive if you are in Windows. Your pictures, music, home videos, movie collection, all your documents, eBooks. Everything is in the same ship as the operating system. So your OS decides to take a dive on you (as Windows all too often does) and all of your most important pieces of data sink with that ship unless you have the tools and the know how to boot from a rescue disk (like “Parted Magic” is my current favorite) and copy those files to another HDD (internal or external).

    I didn’t realize it, but because of the invention of the SSD and their limited size yet unparalleled performance boost, I’ve been keeping all of my important files on a separate drive from my OS for years and years. Nothing but my OS and installed software lives on my C: drive. Photos and video get copied there temporarily for editing. But that’s never the only copy.

    In addition, I use a handy program EVERYONE should be familiar with called “Macrium Reflect.” With this program I simply drop an old 200gb HDD I pulled out of an old netbook into the SATA dock in the top of my tower and “clone” my OS and all other software to that drive.

    If my OS was taken by ransomware, I would cut the power, boot into Parted Magic and use the “Disk Eraser” (one of the few that will wipe a SSD properly) to zap that dang C: drive back to manufacturer original settings. Then I’d drop my old netbook HDD into the dock in my tower. I would boot to that drive which would then give me exactly my old OS along with Macrium Reflect (a lot slower because it’s a HDD but) then I could simply clone that right back to my now clean SSD and I’d be back in business in under an hour. No data loss at all.

    Because everything important is kept on a separate internal HDD and backed up on a 4TB NAS. That’s your solution to something like this – MOVE THE TARGET to a different drive and they won’t hit it.

    For those operating on a laptop that only has one drive and you don’t want to deal with carrying an external drive – 1. That means you’re beholden to either $300 for a 1TB SSD or you’re stuck at half the speed your PC could be operating at. 2. If you want to keep operating from a HDD and deal with the slow (or buy a 1TB SSD) – PARTITION IT and keep all your files on your D: drive or whatever you decide to call it. But stop, do this today, stop keeping your valuable and irreplaceable files on the same drive as your Operating System.

    May you all never know the horror of losing all you data again!
    TC

  6. Any physical drive or partition with a drive letter or network share name or open Cloud folder is at risk.

    Even if current ransomware is not clever enough to target every nook and cranny and file type, it does not mean a future version won’t.

    Backup with the ideas previously mentioned, then disconnect the backup drive and keep it in a drawer.
    Keep another backup drive with relative, friend or neighbour or at work. Encrypted if necessary.

    A spare machine or device is also handy with copies of important stuff.
    Computers and drives are prone to problems, with or without the help of ransomware.

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