Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware). It stops you from using your computer or mobile device normally, holding your system for ransom.
There are many ransomware variants, targeting different platforms and showing different behavior. Ransomware may target home computers, tablets and smartphones; it may also target servers and networked systems such as those used by businesses, hospitals, or even government agencies. All forms of ransomware prevent you from using your device or files, and all will try to make you do something to regain control of your system.
- Lock you out of your system.
- Encrypt files and data so they can’t be accessed.
- Prevent some applications from running (for example, your browser or file manager).
Ransomware will typically demand money in order to restore access to your system and decrypt your files. The standard ransomware model is to offer the encryption key used to scramble your files in exchange for payment. In some cases, there may be an additional threat; for instance, the ransomware may falsely claim that illegal material has been found on your computer and demand that you pay a fine to avoid prosecution. Rarely, the malware will demand something other than money, such as information.
It is sometimes possible to restore your system to its original state without paying the ransom. Some ransomware infections do not encrypt any files at all, and you can recover your system simply by removing the infection. Older variants may use broken encryption, allowing you to decrypt any scrambled files without needing to pay for the encryption key.
In many instances, however, the encryption is real and unbreakable. Even if the ransom demands are met, there is no guarantee that your system will be restored. You may be able to get rid of the ransomware itself, but your files will still be lost.
The only way to ensure that your data isn’t destroyed by ransomware is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. Robust and effective security will prevent the majority of infections, while regular backups and a solid recovery plan will avert data loss and reduce downtime.