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August 16 2022 12:11 AM ˚
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The sad reality of ransomware

It is a sad reality, and it does not just take place in drama TV series or movies, but in real life, every day. Ransomware, one of the worst, most infuriating, despicable forms of attacks on computers
It is a sad reality, and it does not just take place in drama TV series or movies, but in real life, every day. Ransomware, one of the worst, most infuriating, despicable forms of attacks on computers, strikes you at various scales. (Photo: Unsplash)
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It is a sad reality, and it does not just take place in drama TV series or movies, but in real life, every day. Ransomware, one of the worst, most infuriating, despicable forms of attacks on computers, strikes you at various scales. It can hit private users working from home with apparently unimportant personal data, as well as large corporations.اضافة اعلان

The last concrete case of ransomware I was personally confronted to in my line of work was an attack on the server computer of a cultural center in Amman two years ago. As it happens typically, the pirates were able to download the virus and hijack all the files on the server by encrypting (locking) them, and therefore preventing the user from opening and using them. They sent a message asking for a ransom, a payment in digital currency equivalent to JD2,000, through an impossible to track channel.

Should the cultural center have paid, the attackers would have then sent a decryption key enabling the unlocking of the files. The center refused to yield to the threat, and thanks to the back up data set they had on another machine’s hard disk, did not suffer any actual loss of data. Their IT techies were also able to detect and wipe out the virus afterwards.

I was strangely reminded of the frustrating ransomware reality twice yesterday. The first time was when watching an old episode from 2016 of the Netflix series The Blacklist, and that featured a typical case of ransomware, and the second time when learning in the news that Gigabyte, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of motherboards for computers, had been the subject of a ransomware attack. If pirates were able to penetrate the system of professionals working in the technology industry itself and to ransom them, then no one is safe!

Computer threats and viruses affect systems in various ways. Some are meant just to spy on you and your data, only to decide how to use the information at some later stage. Others steal your files, looking for passwords, bank account information and the like. Others are just mean and delete your data for no apparent reason or benefit. It has been going on for more than 30 years now.

Kaspersky, one of the main providers of efficient anti-virus software, say that the first recorded case was a software infection created by the Alvi brothers from Pakistan, back in 1986. Ransomware seems to have appeared about four years after, circa 1990. It is, however, over the last seven to eight years that the rate of ransomware attacks has significantly increased.

Few computer problems, if any, can be as frustrating as being yourself the victim of a ransomware attack. Imagine the message: “Either you pay me, or you will never be able to have access to your files again!” And of course, if you decide to go ahead and to pay the ransom, you have no guarantee at all that the pirates, the criminals, will actually give you the key to unlock your files, though it seems that in most cases they do. Perhaps it is their way to maintain a “good reputation”!

As for trying yourself to decrypt and unlock the files, without the necessary key, it is virtually impossible. The encryption algorithm is usually so strong that even IT professionals would be unable to succeed doing so.

Multiple forms of protection do exist. From well configured firewalls, both hardware and software-based, to properly maintained and updated antivirus programs like Kaspersky, Bitdefender, Avast, and others, they all help. Being careful about what websites to browse, what suspicious emails to open or not to open, and what suggested link to click, is important too. Awareness is essential here.

The most efficient form of protection may still be to have a daily back up of all your files, made automatically in an unattended manner, and on an external device, for ultimate safety. Cloud storage also is a valid option, as it is unlikely, though never an absolute certainty, that cloud reputable services like Microsoft 365, Dropbox, or Google Drive, will probably be better protected against ransomware than your personal laptop, and therefore will ensure that you always have access to your files and data.


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