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Most of us are conscious of the fact that viruses, or malware (malicious software), can corrupt our computers and devices. Malware is constantly changing and adapting to become more difficult to detect. Scammers are finding new ways to infiltrate your system and take advantage. One of the newer and more dangerous forms of malware is ransomware. You might be asking, what is ransomware? 

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware that is used to encrypt your most important files so that you cannot access them. In order to remove the encryption, thieves will require that you pay a ‘ransom’. These ransom payments are often required to be paid using Bitcoin or other anonymous cryptocurrency. In 2019, ransomware cost Americans approximately $7.5 billion in losses. During the pandemic, ransomware has increased by a whopping 715%. Ransomware is generally targeted at businesses, but individuals are also at risk. 

In short, ransomware is popular because it is successful. Thieves will encrypt your most important files which leaves you with no way to access them. This leaves you two options: pay the ransom or lose access to the files for good. Many businesses or individuals will simply pay the ransom in order to get the ordeal over with. Thieves are able to coerce you into giving them money instead of having to actually steal it. 

How Does It Work?

  1. Infiltrate.  Ransomware attacks generally start with a phishing email that will contain a file which seems to be trustworthy. Oftentimes, the email will look very convincing as if it is from a trusted source. Once the file is opened, the malware will gain access to your system. Another avenue of infiltration is “malvertising.” an advertisement which contains the ransomware.
  2. Encrypt. Once the malware is downloaded, hackers will have access to all of the files in your computer/device/system. Hackers will then choose to encrypt the files that they deem to be the most important which will restrict access to those with a specific decryption key. 
  3. Extort. Once your files have been encrypted, thieves will demand payment of a ransom in exchange for a decryption key. This key will allow you to regain access to your files. Often, ransomware will come with a “countdown” which only gives the infected a few days to pay the ransom. This is another tactic which pushes the infected party toward paying the ransom. 
  4. Remove. After paying the ransom, you will receive the decryption key, thus regaining access to your files. However, the ransomware isn’t actually removed from your device until someone manually removes it. 

Ransomware is scary because all it takes is one wrong click and you could be in a world of hurt. What is ransomware? Hopefully, one answer to that question is: “Something you never have to experience.”

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