What Ransomware is and Why it is Very Dangerous

You might have a seen a message from a ransomware like this:

Warning! Obscene child pornographic images have been found on your computer. The distribution of such filth is illegal and is shameful in our society. As such, you will be fully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will report this to the police if you don’t give us your log in credentials within 24 hours to remove the child pornographic content.

Such a message would no doubt scare the living day lights out of you – especially if you are someone that have previously watched forms entertainment that portrays lewd or illicit images. Yes, ransomware is arguably the “scariest” type of computer malware out there. Sadly, many people act impulsively and succumb to the malware’s dreadful threats. You don’t have to be one of those people! This article shows you how ransomware works and what you can do protect yourself from it.

Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your computer screen and prevents you from accessing your computer until you pay a ransom – which involves giving away money or your password. Ransomware originates from the word “ransom,” which is a price paid for something that has been lost or damaged. The suffix “-ware” is used to categorize different forms of computer programs. In this case, your computer is the hostage; and you must pay a price to get it back to normal.

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Ransomware not only locks your computer, but severely threatens you as well. In most cases, the malware makes it seem like the message is from the U.S. government or a major organization. They often threaten to report you to the police if you don’t comply. The messages displayed by the malware look very real. As a result, people can easily be fooled into thinking that the message is real.

A computer usually gets infected when the user has been visiting websites that provide illicit content and illegal downloads. A person may also unwittingly download and install ransomware by viewing an infected file from a malicious email. Once the malware has been installed on your computer, it then determines your geographical location. This is important because it allows the malware to display the threat in the right language. For example, if you are located in the United States, the malware would mostly display the threat in English. If the user lives in a country with strong law enforcement, the malware threatens the user with police-themed messages.

Instead of letting the malware hold your computer hostage, you should action and remove it. Removing ransomware is not too different from uninstalling other forms of malware. Granted, some forms of ransomware are harder to remove than others. Fortunately, you can prevent and protect yourself from ransomware.

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  1. Don’t visit bad sites. Stay away from sites with illegal activity and pirated software. Do not visit sites that have obscene images and videos. Malware is more common on those kinds of websites.
  2. Use emails with care. Take a close look at the content of the email. Does it contain any suspicious file or link? If the sender is someone you know and the content looks suspicious, double check with your friend if he/she has sent that email.
  3. Use Internet security software. These types of programs can block a ransomware before it fully infects your computer. Make sure you keep your antivirus updated to prevent a security breach.
  4. Use safe mode. This is really useful when your computer is already on locked down by the malware. Use safe mode with command prompt and then run “explorer.exe” to enable the full user interface. This allows you to bypass the lock set by the ransomware. Now, you can run your antivirus software to manually remove it.
  5. Boot from a live CD or USB. If safe mode does not work, you can boot from live antivirus CD or USB. Norton, Kaspersky and Avira provide bootable rescue CDs. Since they are independent of your hard drive, the malware cannot block them.

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Unlike other forms of malware, ransomware hurts more than your files, it also hurt your dignity. Ransomware puts many innocent users in very embarrassing situations. For example, a teenage boy may have been told by his parents not to indulge in pornographic content on his computer. While using his computer, everything is suddenly locked and he encounters the message displayed above. It would be really hard for him to convince his parents that he was not watching it – especially if his parents are not tech savvy.

Worse yet, In many cases, the ransomware displays the obscene images that it claims you were watching! The victim may be more than a teenage boy – it may be a reputable doctor, teacher, or even you. For example, your job would certainly be at stake if your supervisor sees police-themed ransomware messages on the computer you use at your workplace. What is more, the ransom that the fraudsters demand is quite expensive.  Therefore, a ransomware is far different than a normal computer virus because it holds your computer and your dignity in bondage.

Image Credit: Flickr User: hobvias sudoneighm, Jade Jackson

6 comments

  1. From all the hype surrounding Windows8, one is left with the impression that the OS now protects you from this sort of rubbish. Given that this article appears to present relevant information for all Windows users, can one assume that the latest OS offered by Redmond still can’t prevent this sort of thing? :-/

    • The best protection is and will be to stay off bad sites and use a mail client that doesn’t load images right when getting a mail. You can never be certain whether there are bugs in your software that could be used to infect your computer.
      But speaking of Windows 8, I never heard they did anything major regarding security. I think the GNU-based operating systems (Linux / Hurd Distros, some BSD variants) are still the ones with the best built-in security features. And as MS Windows has the biggest market-share among (not so tech-savvy) end users, it is the system that is attacked the most.

  2. Jonas, your advice is somewhat sound BUT you don’t always have a choice in this! I’ve had my computer “locked out” 3 times now….twice I was trying to get to my emails and once I tried to get to a favored game site! Windows 7 bootable repair disc ended that problem!
    as far as Windows 8 “blocking” that….NO! it does not! I keep my machine clean and ran several utilities to keep it that way but from time to time this garbage still gets through, about 3 to 4 months I get hit….plus “8” has “killed” the use of repair disc’s! I’m not a porn watcher nor do I pirate movies or music. I run both Windows 7 and 8….7 on my desktop and 8 on my netbook( no choice on that…yet!) I assure you that Windows is both a blessing and a curse! as soon as I can figure out how to wipe out “8” from my netbook it WILL have Linux on it! my desktop is dual boot….”7″ and Ubuntu!

  3. Windows 8 has a bootable repair disk. Funnily enough, you have to go to control panel, select icon view then select Windows 7 File recovery to make the disk. I say funnily because the win8 disk which is created with a tool for win7 doesn’t work on win7 machines.
    still for absolute security use Apple, security through obscurity! :)

  4. I had this Problem a few months back when I was on porn sites. The Europol front page and a warning I had been caught downloading illegal porn and telling me I had to pay €200 to unlock it. However my machine only runs Linux, I refuse to connect any Windows machine to the web. It had locked the browser so I went into command line, shut down firefox, restarted Firefox, said no to restoring the crashed session and started a new browser session. I then emptied cache, cleaned history and went back to a clean machine, not a ghost of a problem since.

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