Even a few years ago, I had no idea what ransomware was. But that all changed when I lost all of my data to a ransomware attack. This event prompted me to study the topic in-depth and procure a step-by-step guide for individuals who have fallen victim to this vicious malware.
Ransomware is a type of cyberattack where the attacker uses malware to hold corporate data hostage, locking users out or rendering it indecipherable through encryption. The perpetrator then demands a ransom (usually in cryptocurrency) in exchange for the encryption key. Ransomware’s annual revenue currently stands at $1 billion.
How Does Ransomware Spread to Your Device?
Phishing emails containing malware are one of the most common ways of spreading ransomware. Additionally, ransomware can disguise itself as different programs or even application updates. You can install ransomware simply by clicking on attachments on spam emails or downloading infected files. To prevent ransomware attacks, you need to take proactive measures to reduce spam emails. Spammers gain access to your email address when it is exposed on the Internet.
To check your email address visibility, go to Sniff Email — an online platform dedicated to finding out if your email address exists on the Internet. Enter your email address in the search field and click fetch to find out if your email address exists on the web within a few seconds. Based on the results, you can take appropriate action to remove it to reduce the number of spam emails that you receive.
How to Defeat Ransomware Attack?
There are different types of ransomware attacks, and the removal process is individual for them as well. However, the following 7 steps have proven to be successful for dozens of ransomware attacks. If your device is under a ransomware attack, go through our suggested steps to recover your data.
Step 1: Evaluate the attack
If ransomware has infiltrated your system, the first thing you will notice is you cannot access most of your files. A more obvious sign of ransomware is a pop-up message on the screen or after you click on the files. It will include an explanation and a ransom request, usually through cryptocurrency.
If you experience any of these signs of a ransomware attack, the first thing you need to do is calm down and evaluate the situation. Some ransomware is pretty simple, and you can decrypt the files using a free tool. You may have to recover your data from backups or even pay the ransom in a more complicated case. Removing the malware from your PC or server is another crucial step that you should keep in mind.
Step 2: Isolate the infection
Next, you need to isolate the infected device from the network to mitigate the damage. Disconnect your device from the Internet or any external storage devices. The source of the attack, or the patient zero, can be more than one. Meaning the ransomware can enter multiple connected computers and not yet show any symptoms. You need to treat all of these devices to eradicate the malware.
Step 3: Shut down the source of the infection
Shutting down the source of infection helps minimize the damage by preventing further encryption. During a ransomware attack, the attacker opens the files to encrypt and spreads the malware further. So, you need to take these shares offline as quickly as possible.
Take a look at the open files at the encrypted share. If you see one user with a large number of open files, they might be your patient zero. Lock all of the shares to stop the progress of encryption. This step will save a lot of time in the later stages.
Step 4: Identify the infection
Most often, the ransomware will identify itself in the ransom message. There are several different websites available that will help you identify ransomware. ID Ransomware, No More Ransom provides some of the major ransomware identification tools. You will need the ransom note and encrypted file samples to use these tools.
Identifying the ransomware will help you understand the type of ransomware, how it propagates, which files it encrypts, and your options for removal and disinfection. It will also enable you to report the attack to the authorities as recommended.
Step 5: Check your backups
Before moving on to the next step to evaluate your recovery processes, you need to check your backup system. When was the last time you backed up your data? Do you have a full or partial backup? How long would it take for you to restore all of your backup data? And most importantly, how much would the downtime cost you? Consider all of these aspects to make your decision before the ransom timer expires.
Step 6: Consider your options
When ransomware infects your system, you have three options:
- To pay the ransom
- Attempt to remove the malware and decrypt your data
- To clear your system and start from scratch using your backup system
The FBI highly recommends that the victim do not pay the ransom. They stated, “Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cybercriminals to target more organizations, but it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity.” Even if you decide to pay, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that your files will be decrypted after paying the ransom.
Step 7: Restore the data
If you have a sound backup system, removing the malware from your system and starting fresh is the best available option. You can use a robust anti-virus program to get rid of the infection. To ensure that your system is completely clean, wipe your system entirely. Format your hard drives and reinstall your OS to clear up the last remnants of the malware.
After you have cleaned your system, start the restoring process. Be sure to determine the attack time from malware file dates, messages, and other information. Information about the particular malware that infiltrated your systems will allow you to understand how that malware functions and your best strategy for restoring your systems. The time needed to recover your data depends on the data size.
Ransomware attacks have many different types, and they are constantly evolving. If you cannot resolve the situation on your own, seek out expert help to recommend the best strategy.