Recent cyber attacks have brought the word ransomware to the world. Ransomware is a malicious software that can infect anyone’s computer. Often, ransomware is disguised as a trusted file that arrives in an email. Once the file is downloaded and opened, the ransomware activates.
There are also programs that can travel through computers on their own, without any action from a human user. An example of this is the ‘WannaCry Worm’ incident from May 2017. This ransomware struck Microsoft computers, encrypting the personal data on the computer.
Basically, ransomware holds or encrypts your computer files and demands that you pay a ‘ransom’ before you gain access to your files again. The encryption is sometimes so complex that only the ransom holder with the key can decrypt the files. There are three different major types of ransomware.
This type of virus takes the files on your computer and codes them. You won’t be able to access any of your personal files. Often, you’ll get a message that your user’s license for certain software has expired, followed by a link to “pay” for continued use of that software.
In 2011, a non-encrypting ransomware swept through the world. This Trojan mimicked the Windows Product Activation and gave users a warning that they must reactivate Windows. The online activation wasn’t available, forcing users to call a ‘free’ number that ultimately incurred huge international phone charges.
Also called Doxware, this type of ransomware threatens to sell personal information from your computer. This might include sensitive information on your computer like credit card and social security numbers, banking information, and other information that might damage your business or personal reputation.
Since there are so many people using smart phones, mobile ransomware has also surfaced. This kind of ransomware usually strikes phones using the Android platform, since these phones allow for the downloading of third-party applications. But, iPhones are not immune to ransomware, as there have been attacks on Apple products as well.
What to Do if Your Computer is Infected
If your computer is infected with ransomware, there are some ways to get rid of the problem. Of course, each virus is different, so these tricks might not work for all of them.
Running an anti-virus scan can inform you as to what type of virus you have and often remove them for you.
If that doesn’t solve your problem, you’ll need to boot your computer into safe mode. Click the Start menu, then the power button (which pulls up your three options: Sleep, Shut Down, Restart). Hold the Shift key and click Restart.
Once your screen comes back up, click on Troubleshooting, go to the Advanced Options, and choose Startup Settings. Finally, click the Restart button. This will take a while, but eventually, you’ll get a screen with numbered options. Choose #4 for Safe Mode, #5 for Safe Mode with Networking (which allows you to hook up to online scanners).
Next, delete your temporary files. Click Start and then type Disk Cleanup. You’ll get rid of any unneeded files and might even boot out some malware in the process. This will speed up your virus scan.
Then, download a malware scanner. This is important, even if you have an anti-virus program running; there are millions of viruses and no software can detect them all. Choose a different scanner than your anti-virus software. When you’ve done that, you can run a scan for viruses.
Seeking a Professional
If you can’t get rid of the ransomware on your own or aren’t computer savvy enough to know what to try, you should try a specialist company. These are the tech geeks who have studied computers inside and out.
When you take your computer or laptop to a professional, be sure you bring the charging cord as well; many laptops don’t use the same cord, and you don’t want to make another trip to the computer shop when your laptop battery has died.
Ransomware is the latest in cyber attacks. It can strike anyone, anywhere. All you can do to prevent it is to be vigilant and don’t download any files that seem suspicious, even if they’re from friends. Always check with them before downloading or opening files.