Skip to the main content.
Talk to sales Start for free
Talk to sales Start for free

2 min read

What is ransomware?

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts files or restricts system access until a ransom is paid. It has evolved with advanced techniques to exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems.


Understanding ransomware

Ransomware is malware that holds a victim's data hostage by encrypting it or restricting access to the system. The attackers then demand a ransom in exchange for the decryption key or the restoration of system access. Cyber extortion has become a lucrative business for cybercriminals, targeting individuals, businesses, and even critical infrastructure.

Read more: What is cyber extortion in healthcare? 


How does ransomware work?

Ransomware typically enters a system through malicious email attachments, exploit kits, or compromised websites. Once inside the system, the ransomware begins encrypting files or locks the victim out. The victim is then presented with a ransom note, which contains instructions on paying the ransom and obtaining the decryption key.


Ransomware prevention strategies

Preventing and mitigating the impact of ransomware attacks requires a multi-layered approach. Here are some strategies to protect against ransomware attacks:


Regularly updating software

Regularly updating software, including operating systems and applications, is necessary to prevent ransomware attacks. Software updates often include security patches that address vulnerabilities exploited by ransomware. 


Strong passwords and multi-factor authentication

Strong passwords and multi-factor authentication (MFA) significantly enhance the security of systems and reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Passwords should be complex, unique, and regularly updated. MFA adds an additional layer of security by requiring users to provide more than one form of authentication.


Backing up data regularly

Regularly backing up data is necessary for recovering from a ransomware attack without paying the ransom. Backups should be stored offline or in a separate, secure location to prevent them from being compromised by the ransomware. Organizations should test their backup and restoration processes periodically to ensure their effectiveness.


Educating employees 

Phishing emails and social engineering techniques are common entry points for ransomware attacks. Educating employees about these threats and providing training on identifying and reporting suspicious emails or messages can significantly reduce the likelihood of successful attacks. Simulated phishing exercises can also help raise awareness and reinforce good security practices.


Endpoint protection and antivirus software

Endpoint protection and antivirus software play a significant role in detecting and blocking ransomware threats. These solutions use various techniques, such as behavioral analysis and signature-based detection, to identify and prevent malicious activities. Regularly updating and maintaining these security tools help protect against evolving ransomware strains.

Read also: Why antivirus software isn’t enough 


Incident response and recovery

Despite taking preventive measures, organizations may still fall victim to a ransomware attack. A well-defined incident response plan minimizes the impact and facilitates recovery. Here are the key steps in incident response and recovery:


Containment and isolation

Upon detecting a ransomware attack, the first step is to isolate the infected systems from the network to prevent further spread. Disconnecting affected devices and disabling network access can help contain the infection and limit the damage.


Analyzing the ransomware strain

Analyzing the ransomware strain to understand its behavior and determine the appropriate response. Security professionals can analyze the ransomware's code, encryption methods, and any known vulnerabilities to explore potential decryption options.


Assessing the damage and impact

Organizations need to assess the damage caused by the ransomware attack and evaluate its impact on critical systems and data. This assessment helps prioritize recovery efforts and identify potential data loss or compromise.


Decrypting files and restoring systems

Organizations may attempt to decrypt the encrypted files using available decryption tools or by obtaining the decryption key from the attackers. Restoring systems from clean backups is also an important step in recovering from a ransomware attack.


Reporting the incident 

Organizations should report ransomware incidents to the appropriate authorities, such as local law enforcement or national cybersecurity agencies. Reporting the incident helps track the attackers and build a stronger defense against future attacks. 

Go deeper:

See also: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide  

Subscribe to Paubox Weekly

Every Friday we'll bring you the most important news from Paubox. Our aim is to make you smarter, faster.