Ransomware - don't fall victim

A recent BBC article reported an 'alarming' rise in ransomware tracked, and at SWGfL we’ve noticed that a number of schools have fallen victim to attacks in recent months too.  So what is ransomware and how can we prevent it reaping havoc?

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a kind of malware, or malicious software, that scrambles data on your device. It holds your device or files for "ransom" and will demand that you pay money to get access to your device or files.

There are different types of ransomware which behave in slightly different ways:

  • Prevent you from accessing Windows
  • Encrypt your files so you can't use them
  • Stop certain apps from running, including your web browser

They target any users, whether it’s at home, work or school. There is no guarantee that paying the fine or doing what the ransomware tells you will give access to your device or files ever again.

Types of Ransomware

There are thought to be over 120 different variants of ransomware in existence today, but there are two main types – lockscreen ransomware and encryption ransomware.  Lockscreen ransomware shows a full-screen message that prevents you from accessing your device or files. It says you have to pay a “ransom” to get access to your device or files again. Encryption ransomware changes your files so you can’t open them. It does this by encrypting the files. 

What’s the point of Ransomware?

The distribution of ransomware is a criminal activity that involves someone trying to steal money.  Some ransomware is operated by criminal gangs, others is available to buy from the underground market.

How does Ransomware infect your device?

Ransomware can get on your device from nearly any source that any other malware (including viruses) can come from. This includes:

  • Visiting unsafe, suspicious, or fake websites
  • Opening emails and email attachments from people you don’t know, or that you weren’t expecting
  • Clicking on malicious or bad links in emails, Facebook, Twitter and IM chats like Skype

How to reduce your risk of a Ransomware attack

  1. Back up your data, regularly.

If you can restore access to your data easily and quickly, the impact of a ransomware attack is going to be less disruptive.  Some types of ransomware will encrypt files on drives that are mapped to your device, so it’s important to opt for an external drive or remote backup service, one that is not assigned a drive letter or is disconnected when it is not doing a backup.

  1. Keep software up to date , reducing vulnerabilities.

Some ransomware will rely on security vulnerabilities in popular software applications, including Office, your browser, Flash etc. so it’s important to keep your up to date with the latest version.

  1. Anti-malware is vital, keep yours up to date.

SWGfL recommends Sophos solutions and what’s more we’re able to offer schools top-notch protection from as little as £2.95 per device for 36 months cover. Click here to find out more. 

  1. Keep all your passwords sufficiently complex

If you connect to school from home it’s quite likely that you’ll be doing so using RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).  Some types of ransomware specifically target machines using RDP.  As a user, the best way to defend yourself is to ensure that your password is sufficiently strong. 

  1. Only use admin rights when you absolutely have to

Don’t give yourself more permission than you need.  Don’t stay logged in as an administrator any longer than is strictly necessary, and avoid browsing, opening documents or other “regular work” activities while you have administrator rights.

  1. When it comes to emails, be suspiciously smart    

Don’t open emails and email attachments from people you don’t know, or that you weren’t expecting.  We explored this is a lot more detail in the Phishing article If in doubt, don’t open it!

Further Reading

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