Ransomware: More Than An Episode of The Good Wife
Ransomware started making the rounds a few years ago and, though it doesn’t get talked about a lot anymore, it is still around. And it is still a huge pain to deal with.
For those who haven’t heard of it before, ransomware is a type of malware that hijacks your entire system. Typically you’ll be working along and then you’ll get a pop-up saying that your system has been compromised and ordering you to input your credit card information to regain control. Sometimes the entire system will shut down until you pay up. Supposedly.
The first rule of ransomware, of course, is DO NOT PAY IT. Seriously. These are scam artists and hackers who just want to try to make a quick buck while stealing your identity. And, if you know what you are doing, you can usually get rid of the ransomware yourself.
IMPORTANT: If you aren’t familiar with code or system administration stuff or if someone has taken your entire network hostage (this is where that Good Wife reference becomes relevant), it is better to hire professionals to help you get everything back up and running. If the problem is network wide, look for onsite data recovery services so that you don’t have to try to dismantle your servers or your network.
Step One: The Internet Is Not Your Friend Right Now
Disconnect your machine from the internet. Turn off the wi-fi signal and unplug your router. This will stop the computer from transmitting any info to or from the ransomware sender.
Step Two: Try to Clean Up
Your computer likely has some sort of malware remover installed, yes? Force quit your web browser and try to run that. If you still have that much control over your system, your anti-virus and malware removal software should take care of the files that allowed the ransomware to take hold. If you can’t get to your downloaded files, try using malware software that you’ve downloaded to a CD or a flash drive.
Step Three: Restore
With some earlier forms of ransomware, you can simply restore your system from an earlier backup. Restart the computer in safe mode, restore from an older backup and then run your anti-virus and malware detection to locate and delete the files. You might want to run a couple of different programs.
If you aren’t able to restore from a backup, try restoring from the “Restore Factory Settings” and “Reinstall Windows” stage. This will delete everything from the hard drive which means you’ll have to re-install everything again but it’s better than having no options at all, right?
Step Four: Call in the Big Dogs
If you are good with code and sysadmin stuff, this is when you break out the “big code” and get into your system’s metaphorical guts. Find the code running the ransomware and delete it. If you can’t even do this much, it’s time to call in the pros. You’ll have to take your machine in to the Windows or Apple store and ask them to repair it for you.
Step Five: Prevention
Once you’ve gotten rid of Ransomware (without paying them jerks who sent it to you!) it’s time to work on preventing any more from getting through.
The easiest part of this is to make sure that your firewalls are turned all the way up and that you have your system’s defenses running full time. Most newer operating systems have built in defenses against malware and ransomware, so if you haven’t upgraded in a while, now’s the time.
The second easiest part of prevention is to give yourself a refresher course on the identification of phishing emails and what to do with them. Most Ransomware is installed via an opened attachment or clicked link included in a phishing email.
Build up your “rescue disk.” This can be a CD or a flash drive. And on that drive, download ransomware removal software, malware removal software, anti-virus, software, and any other important programs that you want to keep on hand should you have to restore from factory settings. You should also keep a reliable backup on this drive.
It’s true that Ransomware has gotten rarer, thanks to the “dark web” and Tor’s users relying more on bitcoin than actual currencies. Still, there are still some people out there who will attempt to get the better of you. Don’t let them!