How do you spot malware or ransomware?

Everyone uses the internet, and everyone knows about viruses, but why is it that so many people are still getting fooled by the modern equivalent of internet viruses? We’re exploring that in this question, as we ask a question few seem to know the answer to.

One of the bigger questions in security is about not getting into a sticky situation in the first place, so how do you spot problem files like malware or ransomware?

Like all questions, answering it begins with understanding, so let’s start with some specific questions. First, let’s find out what these files are.

What is malware?

You may not know this word, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard the word “virus”. It’s one of those words we’re taught to fear, not just in a health sense, but in an understanding of computers, too.

In the digital world, viruses are known for doing all sorts of dodgy things: they can send your personal information somewhere else, they can lock up your computer and turn its processing cycles to sludge, and they will generally do things you wouldn’t want your computer, tablet, or smartphone to do.

The term “virus” can cover all of these things, but these days, it’s a little out of date, and “malware” has basically become its replacement.

A cover-all term that translates to “malicious software”, this covers pretty much anything that might be seen as destructive for your computer. In essence, you don’t want malware, and now that it can be found on pretty much every operating system, it’s the chief reason why we use internet security.

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What is ransomware?

A type of “malware”, ransomware has become one of the more pervasive and destructive pieces of software to make its way around the web, preying on unsuspecting individuals who don’t have a form of internet security installed on their computer, and who may not be engaging in frequent backups, if any at all.

The term can be easily understood by breaking it up into two parts. Much like how “malware” is translated into “malicious software”, “ransomware” is easily understood as “ransom software”. Specifically, it’s a form of malware that ransoms your files to you.

If it sounds unbelievable, the software works like this: upon execution, ransomware essentially locks down files — many of which are frequently used, such as documents and photos — and encrypts them with a key that is next to impossible to break.

Once this is done, the ransomware provides its ransom in the form of a monetary sum, with payment likely being asked in a digital currency such as Bitcoin. If the ransom is paid, the key is supplied, unlocking the ransomware and giving your files back.

That’s the theory, anyway, but that isn’t always what will happen.

In some situations, ransomware will just guarantee a loss of money and a bunch of files that can’t be accessed, with a key not necessarily being required.

Think of it this way: you’re paying a ransom on a piece of software that illegally locked down your files to begin with, so it’s not as if the people holding your data to ransom are expecting to uphold ethics. They could just as easily take your money and run, leaving your data encrypted and you out of luck.

Security experts we’ve spoken to in the past have recommended that ransoms not be paid, and that backups be performed on a regular basis, so if the worst does happen and your files do get locked down, you can simply recover from a backup.

Alternatively, using internet security solutions will help, preventing you from getting infected in the first place.

We know not everyone uses this, and that is a concerning enough factor, but with the files at least being explained, if you don’t plan on buying internet security, being aware of how these files are transmitted to your computer is at least better than the sobering education that is being infected in the first place.

How is malware transmitted?

Perhaps the best way to not get yourself in a situation with files designed to disarm and do damage is to know how you get infected in the first place, because just like when you don’t intentionally put yourself in harm’s way of an infection disease, so too should you not put yourself in the direct line of fire for a potentially dodgy file.

Fortunately, the experts have some advice on that.

“There are a few tell-tale signs that you can look out for when trying to spot a malicious email or website,” said Andy Hurren, Solution Architect for Intel Security, telling Pickr that you should “always be cautious of emails you’ve received from a stranger or from someone you know that is out of character ” and to “look out for emails from the bank, post office, a government body or well-known business that are unexpected or look suspicious “.

According to Hurren, these emails could contain attachments that you don’t expect, and opening attachments you’re not familiar with is one of the easiest ways to ensure something unexpected happens.

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In the worst cases, that “unexpected” something is a nefarious piece of software designed to make your life a bit of a nightmare, and hopefully provide financial incentive to someone else.

“If the email was sent at an unusual time, such as 3am, or has spelling and grammatical mistakes in the subject line or email body, this could be a phishing scam,” suggested Hurren.

“Websites and pop-ups offering goods or services for free should definitely be avoided as these are more often than not a scam to get you to click through to an unsafe site .”

Ultimately, there are multiple ways for malicous software to get to you, and the ideal solution is the obvious one: internet security software.

Seriously, it’s a necessity these days if you own a tablet or a computer. That’s just all there is to it.

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