Ransomware is the preferred form of malware for hackers today, and there are countless variations of ransomware that all have various, potentially devastating effects. Some types of ransomware simply spam your system with countless browser windows or display pornography or other vulgar imagery until you pay the ransom. Others are more nefarious and either lock you out of your files entirely or encrypt them so you cannot access them until you pay the ransom.
The best defense against ransomware is prevention. Safe internet practices, caution when interacting with any unknown entities, and keeping your operating system and antivirus applications updated are all valuable defenses. Additionally, it’s always advised that you keep a backup of your essential files. A good rule of thumb to follow in regard to backups is the 3-2-1 rule: keep at least three copies of your files in two locations, one of which is not connected to the internet. This affords you the best chances of keeping your data intact if ransomware infects your system.
I’ve Been Infected. What Now?
Ransomware provides hackers with an incredible return on their investment, and many of the newest versions of ransomware are “Game Over” malware, meaning the victim literally has no other option for recovering their files aside from paying the ransom. Additionally, thanks to sophisticated dark web tools, hackers can obtain payments directly from victims. As cybersecurity evolved, the tactics hackers use to circumvent digital defenses have grown more refined in turn.
You may not notice a ransomware infection immediately, and other times, it will be readily apparent as soon as it strikes. In most cases, hackers who use ransomware attempt to infect as many systems as possible to receive as many ransoms as possible. Even the most seemingly ready defenses can be taken by surprise by unique strains of ransomware if just one user on the network interacts with a malicious link or website.
Options for Damage Control
Once ransomware has taken hold in your system, there are basically only three options for mitigating the damage and recovering:
If you keep your data backups consistently updated and you have a protected backup available, then you won’t need to pay the ransom. You may lose one or two days’ worth of data, but that’s far better than the alternative. However, it’s essential to keep your backups safe. A user on your network may notice a file change and assume it needs to be backed up, and once they move that file into the backup, the backup is corrupted. Additionally, having offsite backups is highly recommended. This way, ransomware that affects your network won’t be able to access your remote or cloud-based backups.
It’s important to understand the value of backups. Part of the reason why ransomware is so effective is because many victims simply are not properly prepared for a ransomware attack. They may not regularly update their backups or may not have backups at all. In these cases, the files are completely at the hacker’s mercy.
Some forms of ransomware have existed long enough for altruistic programmers to create decryption programs to fight them. With some types of malware, you have time to remove the malicious program from your system before it has time to contact its command server and extend its attack. However, this is not an option for ransomware. Once ransomware infects your system, you can only decrypt your files if a decryption program exists for the type of ransomware in your system.
In many cases, you can determine what type of ransomware has infected your system by carefully examining the ransom message. Some even tell you what type of ransomware it is. Remember: decryption is only a viable option if you can use the toolkit and a decryption toolkit exists for the specific type of ransomware on your system.
Finally, the most desperate option you can take is to attempt to negotiate with the hacker. Most ransomware programs allow communication with the hacker in command, and these individuals are typically just looking to get paid. In some cases, they may be willing to hand over a portion of your files in exchange for a smaller fee. However, you are at their mercy. Successful negotiation with a ransomware hacker hinges on their aggressiveness and ultimately, their willingness to press the attack instead of just taking the easy money.
One of the golden rules of ransomware is that paying the ransom is never a guarantee your files will be returned. You could pay the ransom, and the hacker never delivers on the promise to decrypt your files – or the hacker could simply delete them entirely and leave you with nothing after taking your money. Negotiation rarely works, and digital security professionals strongly advise against trying this route.
Know When To Contact Help
Ultimately, you want to prevent data loss any way you can. If these options are not viable for your situation, contracting a digital security team to help address the problem could help. Remember that prevention is the absolute best defense against ransomware attacks, but it’s important to have several contingencies in place in case of a successful attack.