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What is Ransomware and How to Protect Yourself

What is Ransomware

What is Ransomware? Is one of the most dangerous and prevalent cyber threats today. This type of malware has evolved significantly, becoming an effective tool for cybercriminals. In this article, we will explore in depth what ransomware is, how it works, the most representative cases, and most importantly, how you can protect yourself against this threat.

What is Ransomware?

Definition of Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files. Once the files are encrypted, the attacker demands a ransom, usually in cryptocurrencies, in exchange for the decryption key needed to recover the data.

Types of Ransomware

Encryption Ransomware

This type of ransomware encrypts the victim’s files and demands a ransom to provide the decryption key. Known examples include CryptoLocker and WannaCry.

Locker Ransomware

Instead of encrypting files, locker ransomware prevents the victim from accessing their system until the ransom is paid. A notable example is the Police Virus.

Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)

This model allows cybercriminals without technical skills to use ransomware tools developed by others. The developers receive a share of the ransom.

How Ransomware Works

Phase 1: Distribution

Ransomware is distributed through various methods, including phishing emails, malicious downloads, and exploits in vulnerable software.

Phase 2: Infection

Once the ransomware has been downloaded and executed, it will begin encrypting the system’s files. It uses strong encryption algorithms that make it virtually impossible to recover the files without the decryption key.

Phase 3: Ransom Demand

After encrypting the files, the ransomware displays a ransom message, instructing the victim on how to make the payment. A timer is often used to add pressure.

Most Representative Cases

Virus WannaCry


In May 2017, WannaCry spread rapidly, affecting more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries. It used a vulnerability in the Windows operating system to propagate.


Appearing in June 2017, NotPetya was initially considered ransomware, but its primary objective seemed to be data destruction. It affected large corporations, causing significant economic damage.


One of the first modern ransomware, CryptoLocker, appeared in 2013. It used strong cryptography and demanded ransoms in Bitcoin, popularizing this payment method among cybercriminals.


SamSam was used in targeted attacks on organizations in the United States, including government and healthcare entities. Unlike other ransomware, SamSam was operated manually by the attackers, allowing for more precise and effective control of the attack.


Ryuk has been used in highly targeted and profitable attacks, primarily affecting large organizations. It is believed to be associated with the Russian criminal group Wizard Spider. Ryuk is notable for its high ransom demands and persistent attacks.


DarkSide became famous for its attack on Colonial Pipeline in 2021, which disrupted fuel supply on the U.S. East Coast. The group behind DarkSide operated as a Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) model, renting out their ransomware to other cybercriminals.

How to Protect Yourself from Ransomware

Preventive Measures


Regularly back up your data. Store backups offline to prevent ransomware from affecting them.

Software Updates

Keep your software and operating systems updated to protect against vulnerabilities that ransomware can exploit.

Security Solutions

Use reliable antivirus and anti-malware software. These can detect and block ransomware before it infects your system.

Best Practices

Ransomware protection

Avoid Clicking Unknown Links

Avoid clicking on links or downloading files from suspicious emails.

Education and Awareness

Educate employees and users about the risks of ransomware and best practices to avoid infection.

Advanced Protection Measures

Network Segmentation

Dividing the network into smaller, secure segments can limit ransomware spread within an organization.

Artificial Intelligence for Threat Detection

Security solutions using artificial intelligence can identify anomalous behavior and stop ransomware threats before they cause damage.

Regular Security Audits

Conduct regular security audits to identify and fix vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by ransomware.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ransomware

What should I do if I am a victim of ransomware?

If you are a victim of ransomware, disconnect your device from the network to prevent the malware from spreading. Do not pay the ransom, as it does not guarantee you will recover your files. Consult a cybersecurity professional.

How to recover files encrypted by ransomware?

Recovering files encrypted by ransomware can be very difficult without the decryption key. You can try restoring from backups or using decryption tools provided by security experts if they are available for your specific type of ransomware.

How to avoid ransomware?

To avoid ransomware, regularly back up your data, keep your software updated, use reliable security solutions, and avoid clicking on suspicious links or files.

What are the symptoms of a ransomware infection?

Answer: Symptoms of a ransomware infection include:

  • Files becoming inaccessible or having unusual extensions.
  • Pop-up messages demanding ransom.
  • Slow system performance due to file encryption.
  • Text files on the desktop or in folders with payment instructions.

How does ransomware spread?

Answer: Ransomware spreads mainly through:

  • Phishing emails with malicious links or attachments.
  • Downloads from compromised websites.
  • Shared networks and connections in companies or institutions.
  • Exploit kits that take advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated software.

What is a targeted ransomware attack?

Answer: A targeted ransomware attack is when cybercriminals specifically select an organization or individual, often using social engineering tactics to gain access. These attacks are usually more sophisticated and personalized, with higher ransom demands.

Is it safe to pay the ransom?

Answer: It is not recommended to pay the ransom because:

  • There is no guarantee that the cybercriminals will provide the decryption key.
  • It encourages more attacks by proving that payments are effective.
  • You could become a target for future attacks by having paid.

What to do after a ransomware attack?


  1. Isolate the device: Disconnect it from the network to prevent spreading.
  2. Do not pay the ransom: There is no guarantee of data recovery and it may encourage more attacks.
  3. Notify authorities: Report to local cybersecurity agencies.
  4. Restore from backups: If available, restore data from unaffected backups.
  5. Consult a professional: Seek help from cybersecurity experts for recovery and future prevention.

What decryption tools are available for ransomware?

Answer: There are decryption tools developed by cybersecurity companies for certain types of ransomware. Useful resources include:

  • No More Ransom: A joint project of multiple agencies providing free decryption tools.
  • Emsisoft Decryptor: Specific tools for ransomware developed by Emsisoft.
  • Kaspersky Ransomware Decryptor: Tools from Kaspersky Lab for certain ransomware.

What is Double Extortion Ransomware?

Answer: Double extortion ransomware not only encrypts the victim’s files but also steals sensitive data. Attackers threaten to publish this data if the ransom is not paid, increasing the pressure on the victim to pay.

How does ransomware impact businesses?

Answer: Ransomware can have multiple negative impacts on businesses, including:

  • Loss of critical data: Inaccessibility to data can disrupt operations.
  • Reputational damage: Exposure of sensitive data can affect customer trust.
  • Financial costs: Includes ransom payment, recovery costs, and possible fines for regulatory non-compliance.
  • Service disruption: Can completely halt operations, especially in critical sectors like healthcare and infrastructure.


Ransomware is a serious cyber threat that can have devastating consequences for both individuals and organizations. Prevention is the best defense against ransomware. Keep your systems and software updated, regularly back up your data, and educate your employees and users about risks and best security practices. Remember, preparation and prevention are key to protecting yourself against ransomware.


  1. Kaspersky Lab. (2021). What is Ransomware? Retrieved from Kaspersky.
  2. Symantec. (2021). Ransomware 101: What is Ransomware?, How it Works, How to Remove it. Retrieved from Norton.
  3. McAfee. (2021). What is Ransomware?: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from McAfee.
  4. Europol. (2018). No More Ransom. Retrieved from No More Ransom. What is Ransomware?
  5. Europol. (2021). What is Ransomware?. Retrieved from Europol.
  6. Palo Alto Networks. (2021). What is Ransomware?. Retrieved from Palo Alto Networks.
  7. IBM Security. (2021). Cost of a Data Breach Report. Retrieved from IBM. What is Ransomware?
  8. SANS Institute. (2021). What is Ransomware?: Defense and Response Strategies. Retrieved from SANS Institute.

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