• What Is Ransomware?
• Should You Pay the Ransom?
• Back Up Your Files
• Further Protective Measures
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a special type of malware that is actively
Guest Editor
spreading across the Internet today, threatening to
Lenny Zeltser focuses on safeguarding customers’
destroy victim’s documents and other files. Malware is
IT operations at NCR Corp and teaches malware
combat at the SANS Institute. Lenny is active on
software--a computer program--used to perform malicious
Twitter as @lennyzeltser and writes a security blog
actions. While ransomware is just one of many different
types of malware, it has become very common because
it is so profitable for criminals. Once ransomware infects
your computer, it encrypts certain files or your entire hard drive. You are then locked out of the whole system or cannot
access your important files, such as your documents or photos. The malware then informs you that the only way you
can decrypt your files and recover your system is to pay the cyber criminal a ransom (thus the name ransomware).
Most often, the ransoms must be paid in some form of digital currency, such as Bitcoin. Ransomware spreads like
many other types of malware. The most common method involves emailing victims malicious emails, where cyber
criminals trick you into opening an infected attachment or clicking on a link that takes you to the attacker’s website.
Should You Pay the Ransom?
That is a tough one. The problem is that the more often people pay these criminals when they are infected, the more
motivated criminals are to infect others. On the other hand, you may have no other option to recover your files. Be warned
though, even if you do pay the ransom, there is no guarantee you will get your files back. You are dealing with criminals;
they may not decrypt the files, or even if they do provide you with a decryption method in exchange for payment,
something may go wrong during the decryption process or your computer may be infected with additional malware.
Back Up Your Files
Perhaps the best way to recover from a ransomware infection and not pay a ransom is to recover your files from backups.

This way, even if you get infected with ransomware, you
have a way of recovering files after rebuilding or cleaning
up your computer. Keep in mind that if your backup can
be accessed from the infected system, ransomware
might delete or encrypt your backup files. Therefore,
it’s important to back up files to reputable cloud-based
services or to store your backups on external drives that
are not always connected to your system. In addition, a
common mistake that many people make with backups is
to assume that it works without testing whether they can
actually recover files. Be sure to regularly test that your
Ransomware is a malware that, once it infects
backups are working, and confirm that you can recover
your computer, encrypts all the files on your
the files you need should your system become infected
computer, denying you access to them.
with ransomware. Backups are important, as they also
help you recover when you accidentally delete files or
your hard drive crashes.
Further Protective Measures
Moreover, you can protect yourself from ransomware infections the same way you would against other types of
malware: don’t get infected. Start by making sure that you have up-to-date anti-virus software from a trusted vendor.
Such tools, sometimes called anti-malware software, are designed to detect and stop malware. However, anti-virus
cannot block or remove all malicious programs. Cyber criminals are constantly innovating, developing new and more
sophisticated malware that can evade detection. In turn, anti-virus vendors are constantly updating their products with
new capabilities to detect malware. In many ways, it has become an arms race, with both sides attempting to outwit
the other. Unfortunately, the bad guys are usually one step ahead, which is why you need to ensure you back up your
files and employ these additional steps to protect yourself:
• Cyber criminals often infect computers or devices by exploiting vulnerabilities in your software. The more
current your software is, the fewer known vulnerabilities your systems have and the harder it is for cyber
criminals to infect them. Therefore, make sure your operating systems, applications, and devices are enabled
to automatically install updates.

• On computers, use a standard account that has limited privileges rather than privileged accounts such as
“Administrator” or “root.” This provides additional protection by preventing many types of malware from being
able to install themselves.
• Cyber criminals often trick people into installing malware for them. For instance, they might send you an email
that looks legitimate and contains an attachment or a link. Perhaps the email appears to come from your bank
or a friend. However, if you were to open the attached file or click on the link, you would activate malicious
code that installs malware on your system. If a message creates a strong sense of urgency, is confusing,
seems too good to be true, or has poor grammar, it could be an attack. Be suspicious, common sense is often
your best defense.
Protect yourself from ransomware by remaining vigilant when opening email attachments or clicking on links, ensuring
that you have updated anti-virus software, and confirming that your files are regularly backed up and can be restored.
An Easier Way to Manage Your Security Awareness Program
SANS Institute’s new Advanced Cybersecurity Learning Platform (ACLP) makes deploying, maintaining, and measuring
awareness programs easier and more effective. Learn more at https:/
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