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While malware can be aggravating, the specific variant known as ransomware is one of the most dangerous. Ransomware includes mild versions that simply pop up and annoy you with a screen that takes over your computer, to the type that encrypt your entire drive and lock you out completely.

The concept is once you’re locked out you will contact the attackers (via the link they provide) and pay the ransom, for the secret key to unlock the computer. The problem with this system is often times they either ask for outrageous amounts of money, or worse, take the money and don’t actually provide the key to unlock.

Prevention

In order to prevent getting Ransomware, use some of these best practices:

  1. Be conscious of what websites you’re browsing. For example, there is a higher tendency to get malware when downloading content on BitTorrent or pornography websites.
  2. If you’re in a Windows environment, stay away from the Microsoft browsers Internet Explorer and Edge. These browsers have more security holes than the rest, and the ability to run ActiveX / .NET content from within the browser creates more opportunities to get malware.
  3. Uninstall Adobe Flash and Java. In fact, the best advice would be to use as few browser plugins as possible. Flash and Java have for years been riddled with security holes and therefore easy targets for nefarious individuals. If you have to use something like Adobe Flash, make sure you keep it updated and only turn it on for trusted sites.
  4. If you’re in a Windows environment, make sure you enable Microsoft Security Essentials / Defender. These built-in tools do a good job of protecting the Windows operating system against malware. And since they’re built by Microsoft, they’re updated frequently and run without being a huge hindrance on system performance.

Treatment

Depending on what type of attack was used to take over your computer, you may be able to treat it. If you have a fake screen that’s simply taking up your screen real estate and in effect preventing you from using your computer, you are in luck. The solution here is to start Windows in Safe Mode, and use a tool such as Malwarebytes.

If however, you cannot enter Windows, then the next step is to try a bootable virus scanner such as Bitdefender.

If that doesn’t work, then you can try and roll back the state of Windows if you have System Protection enabled.

Finally, if you have tried everything and the ransomware has actually encrypted your entire system. Then the question to ask is whether it’s worth the ransom to gain access to the data. If you determine that the data on the machine is vital, then you have a decision to make. If you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee they will actually provide you a key to unlock the drive.

In a broader sense, if people simply stopped paying ransoms, then it wouldn’t make these types of malware operations worth while for the perpetrators.

Most importantly, have a backup of your system. If you’re using Windows, you can use Windows Backup to keep your data in a secondary location. On a Mac, use Time Machine for very effective and easy backups.

Regardless of platform, use an offsite / cloud backup system. We like Backblaze.

This guide might seem daunting, and for good reason. The best plan of action is to prevent needing guides like this. The best method is to partner with a vendor like us to utilize a variety of enterprise tools and best practices to keep your organization safe.