Ransomware is fast becoming the biggest malware threat in the world. According to experts, the number of ransomware victims increased by a shocking 550 percent in less than a year, from 131,000 in 2015 to 718,000 in 2016.
This type of malware is quite the menace since it locks and encrypts files in your computer, rendering them unusable, unless you pay the cybercriminals to unlock them for you, of course. These attacks are particularly devastating to individuals and small businesses who don't have protection and recovery plans in place because they could potentially lead to total data loss.
To help people fight back, four security entities are teaming up to provide resources to ward off this growing danger.
Last week, an initiative was launched called No More Ransom. The newly launched website offers a wealth of useful information about ransomware and better yet, special decryption tools that may unlock your files without paying the ransom.
Currently, they have six free decryption tools available for download (up from the initial four). These are the decryptors for the Chimea, Tesla, Shade, CoinVault, Rannoh, and Rakhni strains of ransomware. To prevent recurrence, it is recommended that users remove the malware infection first with antivirus software before attempting to decrypt their files. These tools will then attempt to unlock the encrypted files using the commonly used digital keys known to be utilized by these types of ransomware.
There is no guarantee that these tools will be able to help all ransomware victims because researchers don't know all the ransomware keys yet. But according to Raj Samani, Intel Security's chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, this is a big step forward. This gives victims a third option aside from paying the criminals or losing their data, he says.
Aside from these decryption tools, No More Ransom also has a "Crypto Sheriff" section that lets victims report ransomware attacks by filling out a form with the ransom note left by the attackers. Security experts will then review the case and will inform the user if solutions are available. Links to report a ransomware crime to the appropriate law enforcement agencies are likewise provided in the "Report A Crime" section.
No More Ransom also provides an extensive Q&A section that aims to answer all common questions about ransomware. From the history of ransomware to useful descriptions of each type, this section is a great resource.
Lastly, No More Ransom provides users with "Prevention Advice". This section details the critical ways of how to protect ourselves from ransomware attacks.
How to protect yourself from ransomware
First, always have a backup of your important files. The best practice is to have two backups, one with a reliable cloud backup service, and another backup stored on an external device like a USB hard drive. Make sure you disconnect the hard drive from your computer after backing up to prevent it from being infected too.
Another tip is to be extremely careful with attachments and links sent to you via email, even from people you trust. The most used ransomware vector now, according to security researchers, is through emails with malicious attachments and links to infected websites.
Also, keep all your software up to date. As we all know, hackers are constantly looking for vulnerability holes in popular software they could exploit. It's a cat-and-mouse game as developers regularly roll out patches to cover any potential bugs or flaws so it is in your best interest to constantly update your software to take advantage of the fixes.
Lastly, and most importantly, make sure you have good antivirus software installed. A strong antivirus program will help you stop ransomware and any other malware attack in its tracks before they do extensive damage.