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Ransomware: What is it and why should you worry?

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Over the past few days, the name ransomware or ransomware cyber-attack has received quite an airplay, and rightly so. It is like an outbreak. The bad kind.

The cyber-attack is reported to have been launched on 12th May and has since grabbed our attention; it is, thus, only fair to understand what you are facing. That way, you can prepare adequately and in case you are hit, you know how exactly what to do.

First things first, let’s understand what ransomware is before diving into intricate details: A ransomware is a malicious software that infects a computer and restricts access to computer files until the ransom is paid. In simple terms, your data is held hostage until you pay the ransom.

There are different strains of ransomware. The two mains ones are Locker Ransomware which locks the computer or device and Crypto Ransomware which often encrypts files or data; hence, preventing access.

Wannacry also referred to as WannaCrypt or WannaCrypt0r 2.0 or Wanna Decryptor targets the Windows operating system. Mac Ransomware is a rare type of cyber-attack that affects Mac computers.

How does ransomware get on my computer?

In most cases, a computer gets infected after a user clicks on a malicious link. This could be in an email or file received as an email attachment. The ransomware software then proceeds to encrypt a user’s data.

Once the encryption is complete, a message demanding payment is displayed on your screen. The money is treated as payment for the decryption key. The payment demands may come with a deadline and chances are that the amount will increase if not paid on time.

The preferred mode of payments is bitcoins.

Over 150 payments have been made in latest attacks translating into 24.75899797 bitcoins or $42,640.91.

How bad is ransomware?

Quite bad.

In some cases, the ransom can access confidential information such as online banking credentials and we all know what that means.

Since its launch, hundreds of thousands of computers across the globe have either been hit or are under direct threat. Reports indicate that over 230,000 computers in over 150 countries have been hit.

In the UK, about 75,000 computers in 99 countries were hit. These included hospitals, Telefonica, and FedEx.
In china, computers of over 30,000 institutions, including government agencies, have been hit by ransomware.

Last month, Microsoft issued fixes for latest versions but left Windows XP out. Microsoft fixed for Microsoft issued a WannaCRY Windows XP patch to prevent a massive cyber attack but this was a tad too late. Many of the computers were hit because the latest Windows updates had not reached them.

Ransomware is getting more sophisticated over time; hence, prevention is important if you do not wish to pay ransom or pay the ransom.

In Kenya, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) released a statement discouraging people from paying ransom in case they are hit. The agency also urged users to ensure that their Windows devices are up-to-date.

Basic Preventive Measures:

  •  Have a backup for your files offline.
  • Update your antivirus
  • Do not click links or open attachments or emails from unknown sources
  • Do not download suspicious files

Do not be scared though, the most important thing is to be informed and understand the importance of protecting your computer.

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