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It was May 12th,2017. The ransomware known as WannaCry reached its peak and affected up to 200.000 computers across 150 countries. Imagine how many more people could have been affected by WannaCry, if it wasn't for Marcus Hutchins, who discovered the kill switch for WannaCry a few days after its discovery, putting a stop on this ransomware epidemic.
Ransomware infects hundreds of thousands of people each year with WannaCry keeping its top position within the most widespread ransomware. This is why today, May 12th, 2020 – on the first Anti-Ransomware Day in history – it is important to understand how ransomware works to keep our data safe and not fall for malicious cybercriminals.
What is ransomware?
Remember when you were little and your brother took your favorite toy hostage and threatened to destroy it if you didn't hand over the remote to him. Ransomware works similarly, but instead of taking your favorite toy away, it encrypts your data, so you cannot access it anymore, and the malicious person behind it threatens to destroy or publish it if you do not pay a ransom – hence the name ransomware. It can also extract data saved on your devices, like credit card numbers or login data, which could lead to criminals cleaning out your bank accounts.
How does ransomware work?
Ransomware exploits vulnerabilities in software or drive-by-downloads. Drive-by-downloads are very tricky, as you don't always recognize they are being downloaded on your device. Let's say you are downloading a free time management tool on your computer. Ransomware could be attached to it and be transferred onto your device, without you recognizing. Another possible way is a crooked link which you visit accidentally because you might have clicked on an ad or spelled the URL incorrectly, so when the website is loading you don't realize that there is ransomware downloading in the background. It also spreads via so-called social engineering: Cybercriminals send malicious links or documents via emails or chat messages and try to attract users to open it. Once opened, the malicious software gets downloaded and starts taking hold of your data.
How to keep safe?
To keep your data safe, you mainly need to stay alert: do not click on suspicious links, always check the URL before login into your profiles, and always make sure to not download any attachments from senders you do not know. Also, do not forget to back up your data. You may think your data is not as important, but just consider the emotional value of all your family pictures and videos or that report you need to hand in by the end of the week. And most importantly, please always keep your software up to date to ensure vulnerabilities are not a gateway to your data.
What if it is already too late?
Ransomware attacks somebody every 14 seconds. If one of your devices gets infected, you have to immediately cut its internet connection, and however important the data is, do not pay the ransom. Instead, file a report with the police. Organizations like nomoreransom.org can help you restore your encrypted data. Try to find a decryptor online, some of them are even free – just make sure it's a trustworthy provider.
No matter how bad circumstances may be and how great of damage your data loss is, remember that there are always guardians out there, like Marcus Hutchins, Eva Galperin, Einar Otto Stangvik, or Kira Rakova, making sure we are safe in the digital world. And today, we would like to say: Thank you!
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