It’s clear from recent headlines that ransomware is a growing problem. The number of reported incidents is rising and the reason why is simple – people and businesses are paying their attackers.

There is help on hand, though. ‘No More Ransom’ is a pan-European project dedicated to helping ransomware victims, so they can get their files back without having to pay up. Of course, businesses and consumers should educate themselves before they fall victim to the cyber criminals, rather than after. Let’s take a look at what ransomware is and what you can do to protect yourself from an attack.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware which encrypts your computer’s files, preventing you from accessing them. Victims are told they must pay a ransom within a certain timeframe to receive the necessary decryption key. Often, the malware threatens to delete the locked files should the victim refuse to pay or try to decrypt the documents themselves. However, paying the criminals is the worst course of action to take, as this makes their malware profitable, encouraging them to attack other businesses and consumers. There’s also no guarantee you’ll be sent the decryption key even if you do pay up.

Why is it so difficult to prevent infections?

First of all, there are now more than 50 families of ransomware out there, and new variations are being created all the time, making it difficult for antivirus software to keep up. Secondly, encryption in itself is not malicious, so some variants able to slip past antivirus software undetected.

However, that’s not to say antivirus software is useless; most are able to detect ransomware threats early on. Therefore it’s important to keep such programs switched on.

How can I protect myself against ransomware attacks?

There are a number of things people can do to avoid falling victim to a ransomware attack:

  • Don’t open suspicious-looking links or attachments – this is most important piece of advice we can offer. Be wary of anything you do not recognise.
  • Always have a back-up system in place – important files should be backed up in at least two places: the cloud and a portable hard drive.
  • Use tough antivirus software and keep all functions switched on.
  • Keep all software on your computer and smartphone up to date.
  • Disconnect your device from the internet/Wi-Fi if you discover a rogue process taking place on your machine.