Ransomware – what it is, what to do

Parents and young people can tackle malware together By Denis Lundie

The world is abuzz with the latest global cyber-event, a wide-scale ransomware attack which affects devices using Windows version 8 and older. Ransomware is a form of malware which blocks access to files on a device until a ‘fee’ (ransom) is paid using an online currency like Bitcoin, or even regular currency. The aim is to earn money rather than to unlawfully access data.

Parents should take some time to discuss malware like ransomware with young people. Besides losing data or money, ransomware messages themselves are usually threatening. If young people think they could get into trouble for visiting ‘illegal’ sites, for example, this can be very stressful and they may not tell their parents. The short videos below explain ransomware and ways to manage it. Follow links and guidance below for managing incidents and ongoing security, and device-specific information.


What to do about Ransomware

For Windows users, the information below, from Microsoft, is essential for parents or young people to be aware of for their version of Windows:

How to prevent and remove viruses and other malware

Immediate action in the event of a known attack:

Before opening e-mail or using the web-browser or any online apps:

  • check that security settings on your laptop or device are up to date, active and automatic, and to be sure
  • run a security scan of your device in case you have some infected files. Follow instructions to remove the offending files.

Ongoing actions:

Don’t open suspicious e-mails and attachments.

Check the ‘from’ address of e-mails before opening. Do not open any that look suspect ( unknown sender, or ‘unexpected’ message from ‘government departments’, ‘banks’ and other institutions) and never open their attachments. Contact the institution directly, and delete the message if it is not. Do not respond to any ‘login’, ‘password’ or ‘download’ or ‘go to’ prompts. Help each other.

Check any weblinks and don’t take bait.

Weblinks can be distributed via e-mail messages, instant messages or other websites. If links look unusual (e.g. not a .gov or .com or other than you may expect), do not follow them. Do not respond if you are confronted with a threatening warning which allows you to ‘pay’ your way out of the ‘problem’. Some forms of ransomware can be safely removed using your security software. Run a security scan to check and remove. If the messages persist or you are unable to access your files or your device itself, you may need to have the device’s operating system re-installed, meaning that you will lose the data on the device, so

Keep a backup of any important files

Use offline backup to disk, online backup service or use online file storage services all the time. For normal office-type files,  OneDrive, iCloud, Googledocs or similar online storage, means that your files are kept securely online, so even if everything on your device is lost, your files are safe. This good for young people, especially for school work and other important files. Photographs, video and other personal files may take up a lot of space online, so you may need to consider upgrading the service.

Make sure that you have active, up to date security software on your device.

For Windows 10 users, the security software that is part of Windows, is sufficient, but make sure that it is up to date, activated and set to update automatically. Apple laptops and devices are less prone to ransomware attacks, but ongoing precautions should still be taken.

Some useful links:

  1. Specifics about how to avoid malware, specifically how to check Windows settings, a look at different security software (Not essential for Windows 10), recognising suspicious sites.
  2. Guide to Mac’s malware management.
  3. Watch cryptographic ransomware (the really bad kind) in action on a PC !
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