A few years ago, ransomware was easily the scariest threat to your devices and home network. A virus hiding or encrypting all your data, demanding payment for its safe return? How devious, how overwhelming, how dangerous! In its heyday, ransomware was responsible for an unbelievable number of successful attacks, even bringing down huge institutions like the U.K.’s National Health Service and Germany’s transportation system.
These days, you’re more likely to see media reports on file less malware, vulnerabilities in software or DDoS attacks, which are both more mysterious and more threatening to larger organizations. Meanwhile, the average internet user continues to struggle against malware — but just as adware and spyware before it, malware’s threat level has waned. Here’s why ransomware isn’t as scary as you might think and how you can safely navigate the web without succumbing to a ransomware attack.
We Know More About Ransomware
When ransomware was new, we didn’t know much about where it came from and how it worked. All of a sudden, millions of web users were missing valuable data and receiving messages that demanded payment “or else.” At the time, when so little was understood about this new cyber attack, regular users were often compelled to pay the ransom — and many still never saw their data again.
Today, ransomware is no longer a mystery. It is merely another type of malware that finds its way onto your devices in the typical fashion — through corrupt email attachments, web downloads, USB drives and/or links. Once executed, the malware gets to work. Cheaper, less advanced ransomware hides and relocates the files on your device, requiring you to manually find and unhide your data. More advanced ransomware will encrypt your data, promising the key if you fulfill the author’s wishes. Neither attack is particularly sophisticated, and in the years since ransomware’s debut, cybersecurity experts have produced dozens of methods of thwarting ransomware before it does real damage.
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We Have More Tools to Fight Ransomware
Again, when ransomware was a relatively unknown threat, many antivirus programs were unequipped to fight them. The vast majority of antivirus software is signature-based, meaning they can only identify malware and threats if their developers have previously encountered them and have identified a unique string of code that the security tool can search for. As ransomware had not yet been discovered, most antivirus could not effectively detect them, meaning the malware ran rampant across computers and other devices.
Obviously, ransomware is no longer an unknown threat, and most popular varieties of ransomware have been vigorously studied by cybersecurity experts. Thus, most web users can avoid ransomware simply because their existing antivirus programs identify and quarantine suspicious files and generally protect against their installation and execution. Additionally, if ransomware does slip in, you can acquire a fast and simple ransomware removal tool from a trustworthy cybersecurity firm, which will eradicate the infection without the need for paying the ransom or interacting with cyberattackers in any way. Typically, these tools will not only remove the malicious software from your device, but it will also help retrieve whatever data you can.
You Should Still Fear Ransomware
This is all good news — ransomware is no longer an insurmountable threat to your safe use of the internet and connected devices. However, that doesn’t mean ransomware isn’t a threat at all. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, ransomware is the fifth most popular way for cybercriminals to gain access to a system and steal user data. In fact, rates of ransomware continue to increase, and new variants are appearing with alarming speed. Ransomware will likely remain a lingering threat to security, much like phishing and pharming have done through the years.
Plus, it’s important to note the devastation that ransomware has caused. The WannaCry ransomware outbreak was one of the most harmful malware attacks in history; it is responsible for the shuttering of several major world systems, including the U.K.’s National Health Service and Germany’s public transit. After WannaCry, ransomware called Petya (and its progeny, NotPetya) did essentially the same at an even more disastrous scale.
It’s not impossible that a new ransomware variant could produce similar or greater results — which means it is everyone’s responsibility to reduce the effectiveness of ransomware attacks and force cybercriminals to work harder to achieve their goals.
You can’t forget about ransomware. To avoid becoming a ransomware victim, you need to remain vigilant for infection symptoms and aware of best practices to avoid and eliminate the attack. Eventually, ransomware may disappear completely — but not if it continues to be an easy way for cyberattackers to rack up wins. If everyone erects effective defenses against ransomware, its popularity will wane, and only then can you relax when it comes to ransomware.