The What, Why and How of Ransomware

12th August 2017

What is ransomware? The name provides a pretty good clue to what it is. As the name suggests, ransomware is software that holds your computing device for ransom. To specific, ransomware can do any of the following things:

  • Prevent you from accessing your computing device
  • Encrypt files on your computing device so that you can’t use them.
  • Prevention certain applications from running, for example, your web browser

Only by making a payment, the ransom, to ransomware creator will you get back complete control of your computing device. But, there often isn’t any guarantee that paying the ransom will give you back control.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best way to understand ransomware is to examine that of the frequently asked questions by people who have fallen victim to or have been targeted by ransomware.

Is it true that the government has detected illegal activity on my PC?

No. If you have received such a warning, ignore it. Legitimate government organizations do not do stuff that causes a notification to pop-up on your computer. Moreover, no government agency will ask you to pay a fine via Bitcoin or some other dodgy method. 2

I want to access my files, can’t I just pay the ransom and get it over with?

This can be very tempting especially if the files were really important and you stand to lose a lot. However, paying the ransom only fuels the trade. Every ransom emboldens the criminals to continue with this vile business. Also, and as mentioned before, payment of the ransom is not a guarantee that you will get your files back. You can pay the ransom and the attacker fails to provide the decryption key, double jeopardy.

How do I recover my files

There are several ways to do this depending on the storage location, Windows version and ransomware involved. Some ransomware-attacks have been figured out by security researchers and solutions are published online. If you have a backup, then you have nothing to worry about.

I have already paid the ransom, what should I do?

If you have paid the ransom, contact your local law enforcement and report the crime providing as much information as possible. The FBI, Interpol and law enforcement in many other countries are actively investigating ransomware. You should also file a report with any of the following government-initiated scam reporting sites.  

  • SCAMwatch website in Australia
  • Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website in Canada
  • An Garda Síochána website in Ireland
  • Consumer Affairs Scams website in New Zealand
  • Action Fraud website in the United Kingdom
  • On Guard Online website in the United States

How To Protect Yourself Against Ransomware

Let us now examine some of the ways to protect yourself against ransomware.

The first step of to install an antivirus program that comes with ransomware protection. Next, make sure you have at least three backups of your files. To physical backups and one cloud solution. One of the physical backups should always be stored at a different location from the other.

Once you have and antivirus and backups, the rest is common sense and some good computer practices. First, never click links or open attachments in emails from people you don’t know. And, even if you know them, if you aren’t expecting an attachment, you should think twice before opening it especially if it’s a zipped file or is a file type you don’t recognize. If unsure, call or text the sender first to confirm they sent the attachment. It may just be that their computer has been infected and is being used like a bot without their knowledge.

Also, ensure your browser pop-up blocker is turned on. You should also avoid bad Internet neighborhoods such as torrent sites and porn because many of these sites also host ransomware. You could be a victim of what is known as a “Drive-by attack” simply by visiting some of these sites.

Finally, a make sure your computer software is always up-to-date. One of the worst ransomware attacks to date, the wannacry attack of May 2017, already had a patch that had been released weeks before by Microsoft. Yet, millions of people around the world had not performed the security update.


The ransomware problem is growing and continues to be a headache for law enforcement. The widespread adoption of Bitcoin hasn’t made things better since criminals now have a way to receive ransom payments anonymously. The best way to stay safe is through the proactive prevention measures that we have outlined above.

Corey is an all round tech guru who has worked at some major blue chip companies. He started Poweronemedia to share his views and knowledge with the rest of the blogging world.