Malware. What was once annoying malicious software that would wreak havoc on your device until it was removed has now become a more mischievous, harmful beast – and it’s no small thanks to the rise in ransomware attacks.
Ransomware is one of the most dangerous types of malware a user can get. It’s software that burrows deep into a system and sneakily takes a victim’s private data hostage by permanently blocking access to it – unless the victim gives into the hacker’s demands. What’s worse, it doesn’t take much for it to infect your smartphone or PC.
As Bitdefender’s Director of Threat Research and Reporting Bogdan Botezatu puts it, “ransomware has changed the paradigm.” It’s a cyber threat that preys on people’s fear of losing their privacy, and has gone on to cause mayhem around the globe. The Royal Mail continues to suffer from hacker group LockBit’s ransomware attack, 2021’s Colonial Pipeline attack saw fuel prices surge and more companies and individuals are still being affected to this day.
For a better understanding of what ransomware is and how to prevent it, we’ve got you covered below.
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What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware that cybercriminals use to restrict access to files on a victim’s device, encrypting user data and demanding a ransom payment in order to gain access to them. If users don’t comply, these hackers will threaten them by leaking personal data they’ve locked down. It’s like someone changing the lock on your door, making new copies of a key, and asking for an outrageous sum of money to gain access to your property again – or they’ll sell off everything you own.
If a ransom is paid off, hackers will release the decryption key for users to gain access to their files again – or so they say. Furthermore, threat actors will make large claims that they haven’t just locked your files but have also obtained sensitive information on your device (a.k.a data theft), convincing users they can easily leak your data online. However, they may not have this data at all; cybercriminals are just bluffing their way to stealing your hard-earned cash.
These fear tactics convince victims that they must fork over a specific ransom, but these hackers may not give you access to your files once you’ve made the transaction, and they may not even have your data at all. This is why it’s important to never comply and to make sure you have the right ransomware protection so you’re never in this position in the first place.
How to stop ransomware
The problem with ransomware is that it’s tricky to get rid of. Even Bitdefender’s Director of Threat Research states that “ransomware is irreversible.” However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared, as there are ways to block and prevent your data being taken.
The most important step in keeping your data safe is to have a backup of your files. This can be through Apple iCloud, Google Cloud Storage, Microsoft OneDrive or any app that lets you keep your important data safe. In the case of a ransomware attack, your files will be easily recoverable since they’ve been backed up. They may not be as up to date, but at least you’ll have access to them.
Use ransomware protection
Windows 10 and Windows 11 come with ransomware protection as part of Microsoft’s Windows Security suite. It’s a handy security tool that restricts applications from accessing, changing or encrypting the files in specific folders. This is key in defending against malware such as ransomware, as it prevents hackers from sneaking their way into folders to steal and lock down your private data.
You just need to turn on Controlled Access. You can find out how to turn on your PC’s hidden ransomware protection, and you can find a brief guide below:
- On your device, type in “Virus & threat protection” in the search field located on the taskbar.
- Select Virus & threat protection.
- A window will pop up. Under Virus & threat protection settings, select Manage settings.
- On the next page, make sure to turn on Real-time protection.
- Scroll down and select Manage Controlled folder access.
- Switch in Controlled folder access.
With this turned on, key folders such as Windows system folders, your default documents and pictures folders with be protected by default. You can add more trusted folders to protect by selecting Protected folders > Add a protected folder.
Use an antivirus to block ransomware
Your device’s ransomware protection offers a reliable way to keep your personal information and files safe from threat actors, but the best antivirus software can do a lot more to fend off malware.
Services such as Bitdefender, Norton 360 and Malwarebytes have excellent detection and protection rates that defend against all forms of malware, meaning they can block and get rid of ransomware before it gets its hands on your personal files. They also analyse and scan through malicious websites and emails to make sure you don’t mistakenly download ransomware in the first place. Furthermore, some subscription packages come with 100GB of cloud storage, which is perfect for stopping hackers keeping your private data hostage.
For a better look at different antivirus software and which is the best for you, check out our reviews:
Best antivirus to stop ransomware
You can find out the best antivirus software below.
Best overall antivirus
Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.
Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.
It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need.
See our full Bitdefender review
Best free antivirus
With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.
Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.
It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.
See our full Avast One review
Best antivirus for families
“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990.
Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats.
Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.
If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.
See our full Norton 360 review
Another best antivirus for free
You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.
AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.
Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.
See our full AVG Antivirus review
Best antivirus for Windows PC
Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.
Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.
That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement.
See our full Malwarebytes review