Ransomware – "The Day the Earth Stood Still" – "Tech Talk" with – Darnell Hughley
October 1, 2017
Okay, that title may be a bit alarming, if not in fact a bit of an overreach. Still, if you have found yourself falling victim to such an attack, it can seem like the proverbial "end of the world" scenario played right out of Edmund North's screenplay, "The Day the Earth Stood Still".
In this story, an alien lands and tells the people of Earth that they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets. The citizens of earth wanted to know if there was some technology we could use (no doubt relying on the advanced technological knowledge of our alien visitor) to save ourselves from such peril.
"There must be alternatives!" Professor Barnhardt asked. "You MUST have some technology that could solve our problem", he further asks.
"Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change." Klaatu (alien visitor) responded.
This exchange came to my mind as I was sitting and thinking of all the customers and clients I've encountered over the past several years. We look for more technology and software advances to help us fight against such attacks without changing our computing habits. As end users, we must personally become more vigilant and careful in the way we use our computers to search the internet, more cautious of the types of sites we visit and curtail our addictions to the countless "free software" we load onto our systems – all of which can often lead to the very attacks that we want to have more technology save us from.
In a world currently inundated with Viruses, Malware, Adware, Trojans – it makes you wonder when will it ever end and just how can we protect ourselves? Now, there's an even more sinister "kid on the block"- Ransomware! This is considered "scareware" as it forces users to pay a fee (or ransom) by scaring or intimidating them.
So, just what is ransomware anyway and how can we protect ourselves from it? In its simplest terms, ransomware is a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their system, either by locking the system's screen or by locking the users' files unless a ransom is paid.
Ransomware is often downloaded onto systems when unwitting users visit malicious or compromised websites. Once executed in the system, ransomware can either lock the computer screen, or, in the case of crypto-ransomware, encrypt predetermined files. In the first scenario, a full-screen image or notification is displayed on the infected system's screen, often purporting to be from Microsoft® or some other trusted company, which prevents victims from using their system. This also shows the instructions on how users can pay for the ransom. The second type of ransomware prevents access to files to potentially critical or valuable files like documents, spreadsheets or media files.
So, just how can you, as an end user, protect yourself? Brace yourself... wait for it... Backup!
Think of how many times you have thought about backing up your precious data and failed to do so just before the inevitable happened. Malware notwithstanding, consistent backup routines of your data, especially for businesses, are simply a good practice against even such things as imminent hardware failure.
Another great practice in protecting yourself is the use of software updates – specifically those updates for your operating system. Be sure you are using and updating security software in order to stay protected from the latest discovered versions of ransomware. Microsoft® does due diligence to send out update patches for its software. These updates are for security as well as performance in many cases.
Lastly, should you somehow find yourself victim to a ransomware attack, because it's never a good idea to further empower a "cyber-bully" DO NOT pay the ransom! Instead, contact a local repair shop equipped to handle such cases first to see if your data can be decrypted.
Darnell Hughley is the Owner, Certified Technician and Consultant for HY-Tech Solutions, LLC having more than 23 years of total experience in the PC Repair and Consulting field.