What does ransomware do?
There are different types of ransomware. However, all of them will prevent you from using your PC normally, and they will all ask you to do something before you can use your PC.
They can target any PC users, whether it’s a home computer, endpoints in an enterprise network, or servers used by a government agency or healthcare provider.
- Prevent you from accessing Windows.
- Encrypt files so you can’t use them.
- Stop certain apps from running (like your web browser).
- Ransomware will demand that you pay money (a “ransom”) to get access to your PC or files. We have also seen them make you complete surveys.
- There is no guarantee that paying the fine or doing what the ransomware tells you will give access to your PC or files again.
Details for home users
There are two types of ransomware – lockscreen ransomware and encryption ransomware.
Lockscreen ransomware shows a full-screen message that prevents you from accessing your PC or files. It says you have to pay money (a “ransom”) to get access to your PC again.
Encryption ransomware changes your files so you can’t open them. It does this by encrypting the files – see the Details for enterprises section if you’re interested in the technologies and techniques we’ve seen.
Older versions of ransom usually claim you have done something illegal with your PC, and that you are being fined by a police force or government agency.
These claims are false. It is a scare tactic designed to make you pay the money without telling anyone who might be able to restore your PC.
Newer versions encrypt the files on your PC so you can’t access them, and then simply demand money to restore your files.
Ransomware can get on your PC from nearly any source that any other malware (including viruses) can come from. This includes:
- Visiting unsafe, suspicious, or fake websites.
- Opening emails and email attachments from people you don’t know, or that you weren’t expecting.
- Clicking on malicious or bad links in emails, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts, instant messenger chats, like Skype.
It can be very difficult to restore your PC after a ransomware attack – especially if it’s infected by encryption ransomware.
That’s why the best solution to ransomware is to be safe on the Internet and with emails and online chat:
- Don’t click on a link on a webpage, in an email, or in a chat message unless you absolutely trust the page or sender.
- If you’re ever unsure – don’t click it!
- Often fake emails and webpages have bad spelling, or just look unusual. Look out for strange spellings of company names (like “PayePal” instead of “PayPal”) or unusual spaces, symbols, or punctuation (like “iTunesCustomer Service” instead of “iTunes Customer Service”).
Details for enterprises and IT professionals
The number of enterprise victims being targeted by ransomware is increasing. Usually, the attackers specifically research and target a victim (similar to whale-phishing or spear-phishing – and these in fact may be techniques used to gain access to the network).
The sensitive files are encrypted, and large amounts of money are demanded to restore the files. Generally, the attacker has a list of file extensions or folder locations that the ransomware will target for encryption.
Due to the encryption of the files, it can be practically impossible to reverse-engineer the encryption or “crack” the files without the original encryption key – which only the attackers will have access to.
The best advice for prevention is to ensure company-confidential, sensitive, or important files are securely backed up in a remote, un-connected backup or storage facility.
In some cases, third-party tools released by some security firms are able to decrypt files for some specifically ransomware families. See Microsoft TechNet blog FireEye and Fox-IT tool can help recover Crilock-encrypted files for an example. Tim Rains, Microsoft Director of Security, released the blog Ransomware: Understanding the riskin April 2016 that summarises the state of ransomware and provides statistics, details, and preventative suggestions to enterprises and IT professionals: Microsoft Threat intelligence report: Ransomware also includes suggestions on prevention and recovery, statistics, and details.