Protecting your PC from Ransomware [PART 1]
July 7, 2015
By Greg Wasson, End Point Security Program Manager

Ransomware is a type of phishing attack that occurs when an attacker sends an email that looks as if it is from a legitimate organization but contains a link or attachment to malware or ransomware.

Once the ransomware is downloaded it restricts access to the computer system it infects and demands a ransom be paid to the creator(s) of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed.

Unfortunately, even when the ‘ransom’ is paid, most often the system remains infected and needs to be wiped clean.

How Do You Get Ransomware on a PC?

The process usually starts with an email containing an attachment. The email could be a duplicate email from someone you know or could be in the form of another message you may be expecting.

This method is called social engineering – the use of a convincing fake name or cause designed to get you to click on it.

In the case of an attachment, many hackers will actually send an executable file (.exe), but disguise it with the icon of a PDF or Word document.

Another common ruse is to name the file “Important Document.PDF,” and include a large number of spaces making the true file type “.exe.” invisible. By doing this, consumers are less likely to notice the actual file type is an executable document, one that is able to infect your computer.

Below is an image of what one of these disguised attachments looks like:

Once the ransomware invades your PC, it encrypts your machine and freezes all of your documents, photos and music - literally holding it for ransom.

Phishing is not new, but the level and sophistication of the encryption being performed once you are infected is improving, and getting your files back without meeting hacker demands is becoming increasingly difficult.

The best way to prevent a cyberattack is to not get infected in the first place. It is important to be on the lookout for suspicious emails and be aware of the many ways hackers are trying to engage you.

This advice may seem quite elementary, but as the recent Verizon 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report noted that 90% of data breaches occur by someone clicking on a socially engineered message containing a link or file that contains malware.

What you can do to protect yourself:

  • Watch for common social engineering tricks such as the false .PDF or .DOC name or anything else that looks suspicious. Knowing the nature of these targeting attempts will help you better spot them in the future.
  • Watch for emails that appear sloppy including misspellings, odd words and/or characters.
  • Stay away from requests for personal information unless you can verify it’s a trusted source.
  • If the email seems too good to be true or if it appears overly urgent, be suspicious and err on the side of caution.
  • Back up your data frequently. If you continuously back up your files, it will be relatively easy to restore everything on your computer if you ever do get compromised.

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