A guide to ransomware

Dangerous for you and highly profitable for hackers, ransomware has taken over as today’s no. 1 security threat. Attacks and infection attempts have spiked over the past few years, and will continue to do so as each version seems to get more powerful and more destructive.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is malicious software which encrypts files on your computer or completely locks you out. It’s spread by hackers who then demand a ransom, claiming that, if you pay, you’ll receive the decryption key to recover your files.

But is ransomware a virus? Nope. Viruses infect your files or software, and have the ability to replicate, but ransomware scrambles your files to render them unusable, then demands you pay up. They can both be removed with an antivirus, but if your files are encrypted chances are you’ll never get them back.

Types of ransomware

Ransomware comes in all shapes and sizes. Some variants are more harmful than others, but they all have one thing in common: the ransom.

Crypto malware or encryptors are the most common type of ransomware, and they can do a lot of damage. WannaCry actually put thousands of lives at risk when it hit hospitals around the world and blocked medical staff from accessing patient files.

Lockers infect your operating system to completely lock you out of your computer and make it impossible to access any apps or files.

Scareware is fake software (like an antivirus or a cleaning tool) which claims to have found issues on your PC and demands money to fix them. Some variants lock your computer, others flood your screen with annoying alerts and pop-ups.

Doxware (or leakware) threatens to publish your stolen information online if you don’t pay up. We all store sensitive files on our PCs (from contracts and personal documents to embarrassing photos), so it’s easy to see why that might cause panic.

RaaS (Ransomware as a Service) is malware hosted anonymously by a hacker who handles everything — distributing the ransomware, collecting payments, managing decryptors — in exchange for a cut of the ransom.