With the latest outbreak of ransomware dominating the news at the moment, following an attack that caused chaos in the NHS computer system in the UK, what is the best way to protect yourself?
Ransomware is a type of malware that infects your device and encrypts your files in an attempt to then sell them back to you. It is incredibly hard to predict when or how ransomware is going to strike and, when it does, you’re essentially past the point of no return. This is why you need to put in place the right forms of protection now before it is too late.
The key difference between regular malware and ransomware is simple. Malware will generally sit in your device and attempt gain information that could benefit whoever it is that put it there. This could be by watching what you input and trying to gain access to your bank accounts or steal passwords, or it could just be extracting your stored information. It is rare that a malware will inhibit your use of the computer, as the designer of the virus has little to gain from this, however ransomware locks you out of all of your files and demands a ransom in return for access.
What Can I Do About Ransomware?
Your best chance to keep your computer protected is with a paid service from a reputable provider. When it comes to effective malware protection, there are really two main names in the business; Norton and Malwarebytes. Both have been around for a long time and have played a large part in keeping the computers of the world safe.
There are however pros and cons to using software from a big brand. On the positive side, they are the big names for a reason, mainly because their products have proved effective over a long period of time thanks to superior coding and ease of use. They also have plenty of resources at hand to keep their products up to date and in line with the latest threats, and you also know they are much less likely to go out of business and leave your system vulnerable, running outdated software. However, with great power comes the greater risk of attack and, if hackers know that there are a lot of computers running the same antivirus software, there is a larger incentive to figure out a backdoor to the protection. This would open up a huge ‘market’ for them.
It has to be said that, for the most part, software from the big firms is very safe and the pros of buying from a large, established company outweigh the cons. So, which should you go for?
Malwarebytes offers the more established malware protection of the two big names. However, malware (including ransomware) is its only focus, and it doesn’t offer protection against other types of virus or infection.
Malwarebytes can be run for free, which will tempt many users. You get a 14-day free trial of the full premium service, which is great and can then opt to keep the software installed and run manual scans at no cost and with no time limit. However, you lose the real-time protection that paid-service users receive, and this is hugely important to have. A wall of protection that operates constantly is the only reliable way of stopping the ransomware from taking hold in the first place.
Though Malwarebytes is the most comprehensive and versatile malware option, it does come in a fair bit more expensive than many competitors, at $39.99 for a 12month subscription.
Norton is the more rounded service, and retails for the same price, $39.99 for 12 months. Norton offers protection from a range of different kinds of infection, as well as a virus protection promise that guarantees a refund if the company’s experts cannot clean a virus from your machine. So, why not just go for Norton then? Well, on the face of it, it seems like the obvious choice. However, Norton is one of, if not THE, biggest name in online security at the moment, which has historically left it open to attack. For example, in May 2016, a major hole was found and exploited in its protection. Although it offers more comprehensive protection than Malwarebytes, it has a slightly spottier past.
Should I Pay the Ransom?
There is no straight answer here. First and foremost, it depends on what you stand to lose. If you have a secure backup with most of your information on it, the chances are that you won’t lose much by ignoring the demands. However, if you stand to lose a lot of unrecoverable files, the decision gets all the more difficult.
If you have been affected, one reassuring thought is that it is incredibly unlikely that the designers of the ransomware will use your files to gain your personal information. That’s not to say that they can’t, but generally, these codes are written with the intention of becoming a mass infection tool that hits thousands of computers and keeps on going, returning money to the designers as more and more victims cough up. The intention is not usually to steal your identity or access your financial details.
This means that, when deciding whether to pay the ransom, it is more often about what your files mean to you than what the attacker could do with them. Of course, it would still make sense to alert your bank to the potential threat and to change passwords for all of your online accounts, just in case.
There are two main problems with paying the ransom. Firstly, around a third of those who have paid in the past reported that they still did not receive their files from the hacker. The second issue is that, however important your data is, by paying, you are funding the business of hacking and giving criminals the incentive to make further attacks. This is incredibly tough to weigh up against the loss of personal items such as cherished photographs and important business documents, but most attacks have a ‘killswitch’ and, as long as they are making them money, there is no reason for the hackers to activate said switch.