laptop and cup of coffee on desk

Scan the headlines, and you’re likely to come across a few ransomware attacks on any given week. Ransomware attacks are become more frequent, and their impact is getting more expensive each year. According to IBM Security’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report, the average total cost of a data breach was $4.35 million, a 2.6% increase over the prior year.

Understanding how ransomware works

The term ransomware refers to malware that encrypts your systems, networks or computer files and renders them unusable. Then, the bad actors behind the cyber-attack demand a ransom for decrypting them. 

There are many types of ransomware out there, with new variations being developed all the time. Some are designed to shut down access to computer systems completely, while others encrypt files while leaving access to the system or network intact. Still other ransomware attacks threaten to release proprietary information to the public if the ransom is not paid.

A spreading threat

Ransomware attacks have become increasingly common thanks to the creativity and technical savvy of the attackers. 

Bad actors often use stolen credentials to gain access to a network to wreck their havoc on both individuals and organizations. Weak credentials, such as simple passwords used for multiple accounts, make it easy for hackers to access someone’s accounts or systems. Lost or stolen devices, especially those that are left unlocked and unencrypted, also provide scammers with an entry point.

Another extremely common way for ransomware to infiltrate a computer is through phishing emails. In this kind of attack, scammers send official-looking emails or texts to individuals encouraging them to click on a link or open an attachment.

These communications may look like they’re really from the recipient’s bank, credit card company or other legitimate entity, when they’re simply trojan horses for ransomware. When the unsuspecting party clicks on a link or downloads the attachment, malware infects their computer, and the damage begins.

How to protect yourself from a ransomware attack

There are some simple things you can do to avoid a ransomware attack. First, make sure to regularly update your operating system on your devices and any other software you use. These updates will help you protect you and your data from the latest cyberattacks.

Then, be careful with your incoming email. Don’t click on links or attachments from senders you don’t know. Be sure to take a closer look at emails that appear to be from someone you do know, too, as cyber criminals have become extremely skilled at copying the look and feel of legitimate emails. When in doubt, look at the sender’s complete email address. If it’s from a real domain, you’re likely safe to open the email. If it contains extra characters and looks off, trust your gut and delete it or report it as spam.

Under attack? Here's what to do

If you believe you may by the victim of a ransomware attack, the FBI recommends you report the ransomware attack to the proper authorities: