Since people learned how to share information over the web, scammers learned how to steal that information.
Sadly, those cruel intentions have led to the rise of malware and ransomware attacks—but developers fighting on the side of good have been hard at work creating protections for our devices and details.
Malware and ransomware are two words that are unfortunately as bad as they sound.
The terms describe two types of "malicious" software—what malware is actually short for—that attack your computer in different ways. Malware is a more general term describing any program that allows scammers to track your activity or access your files. Ransomware is a specific type of malware that will limit or block what you can do on your device, essentially holding your computer hostage until you pay a scammer some sort of ransom.
As such, malware and ransomware attacks represent two of the biggest threats in the world of cybersecurity, often leading to cases of identity theft or severely compromised internet security. And like many other types of scams, these two have been on the rise in the wake of the pandemic. Scammers capitalized on the widespread confusion and desperation of the situation to trick more victims into taking the bait.
The first half of 2021 alone saw the number of malware attacks against organizations double from the year before, with the downloads impacting more than 1,000 victims in 63 countries—and that's to say nothing of individuals.
Still, there's a pivotal line of defense between your information and a ransomware attack: You. To impact your device, malware must first be downloaded—and there are some red flags to look out for to avoid accidentally clicking on these malicious links.
Again, malware or ransomware must first be downloaded onto your device before it can attack. As such, you should be extremely cautious about any message or program asking you to download anything.
Other significant signs of malware or ransomware scams include:
These are just the most prominent or typical signs of a planned malware attack, but it's important to remember that scammers are always trying to stay one step ahead. As such, perhaps the best red flag of all is your intuition: If something seems off to you, it probably is.
Since people must choose to actively download malware onto their own devices, these schemes are often highly disguised.
Scammers will typically masquerade as trusted sources you wouldn't think twice about clicking a link for—but beware. Ransomware attacks can come from nearly anywhere.
By far, the biggest delivery system for malware is email, with the medium representing 92% of all ransomware attacks in 2018. The way scammers keep getting these results is through a method called "phishing."
These types of attacks can look like anything, for example:
They all have in common the call to action: Asking you to download an attachment or click on a link, which is how the malware gets delivered to your device.
Another fast-rising vehicle for malware and ransomware attacks is social media. Indeed, the entire point of the medium is to share things, making it much easier to trick people into clicking on bad links.
Most scammers get away with this trick by hacking user accounts. You'll get a message or comment that seems like it's from your friend or family member, asking you to click on a link. In actuality, the person didn't write that comment—it was auto-generated by a scammer.
App downloads also represent a massive amount of malware or ransomware attack origins.
These scams are pretty straightforward—the scammer will develop an "app," and market it on one of the many app marketplaces. Then, once you download it, you'll download their malware too.
In the era of the ad blocker, these problematic advertisements are thankfully much less of an everyday presence. Still, pop-up ads continue to haunt us—and many of them bring malware with them.
Whatever the ads claim to be selling is irrelevant. Once they get you to click on their link, they'll deliver the malware directly to your device.
One of the benefits of dealing with a problem for so long is getting the chance to learn your enemy.
Engineers have been studying the impact of malware for years and have designed several programs intended to solve the problem in the wake of that research.
Purchasing a reputable malware protection program, such as Norton or Kaspersky Anti-Virus, is your best bet for avoiding malware and ransomware attacks. Still, it's crucial to ensure you purchase a legitimate program from a legitimate source.
And even if you have protection, it's important to play defense. Some other ways to avoid malware scams include:
Falling victim to a malware or ransomware attack can be extremely upsetting.
If you've encountered one of these scams, you should immediately stop using your infected device and contact an IT professional. You may have to remove and replace the hardware on your device in this case, which is why it's essential to back up your information regularly.
If your financial information was involved, you should:
And finally, take the appropriate steps to recover from identity theft.
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