Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Avoid Ransomware by Moving to the Cloud

Ransomware is one of the biggest threats to computer systems today.

If you are not familiar with the word “ransomware,” read the description on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ransomware. The Wikipedia article states, “Ransomware is a type of malware from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid.

Ransomware attacks are very common on Windows systems. Corporations, hospitals, governments, and individuals have paid millions of dollars to unnamed hackers in order to retrieve their files. Macintosh and Linux variants of ransomware also have appeared but are rare. Chromebooks seem to be safe from ransomware as well as safe from all other forms of malware (malevolent software) infections.

Ransomware that crippled the city of Atlanta’s IT network last year cost officials millions of taxpayer-provided dollars in recovery efforts. Unfortunately, that is only one example of ransomware in action. There are many, many more such examples.

Luckily, there are easy solutions to avoid ransomware problems if action is taken in advance. However, these solutions do not work on systems that are already infected with ransomware. In other words, you need to take action NOW, before ransomware appears in your system(s).

Amazon Web Services (AWS) worldwide public sector vice president Teresa Carlson believes the best place for governments, businesses, and others is to run their business securely is in the cloud. As a vice president at Amazon Web Services, Carlson obviously recommends her employer’s solution. However, other cloud services providers are equally good at avoiding ransomware problems.

There are three things Carlson said will help defend against attacks: Encrypt, backup, and inherit.

You can read more about Teresa Carlson’s recommendations at https://www.zdnet.com/article/avoid-ransomware-by-moving-to-the-cloud-says-aws-public-sector-boss/.

Comment: I wouldn’t limit these solutions to corporations, hospitals, and governments. Private individuals can use the same solution, usually at low costs.

Today’s ransomware attacks are limited to disk drives inside a computer or to distant disk drives connected to a computer by networking. In the Windows world, this usually means a disk drive on a network that is mapped to a drive letter in the local computer (such as Drive E: or something similar). The rare Linux and Macintosh variants of ransomware use similar methods to attack disk drives that are logically attached by name instead of by alphabet letters.

The ransomware seen so far does not have the capability to attach remote files in the cloud that are connected over the Internet. Such remote disks are not (usually) mapped as Windows drive letters or as Linux or Macintosh disk drive names. (See a footnote below for one exception.) As such, today’s ransomware cannot access cloud-based file storage services and therefore cannot wreak havoc on your valuable files.

In addition, most cloud-based file storage services also keep backups of all files for 30 days or longer. In the unlikely event of a future version of ransomware is ever developed that can access cloud-based file storage services, the earlier (uninfected) versions of the files can quickly be restored.

If you are storing all your files in your local computer or in a server on your in-house network, you might consider moving those files, or copies of those files, to the cloud.

As for me, all my more important files have been stored in the cloud for the past several years. I originally did that for file redundancy purposes as well as for safety from hardware and software problems. An extra “bonus” is that all my files are available to me at any time from the office, from home, or from a laptop computer being used in a hotel room or at a client’s office. Once ransomware attacks started happening, my files were already protected from the new problems.

In addition, I keep backup copies of the same files both on external local disk drives as well as on other cloud-based file services (stored in different countries from the companies that store my primary files).

Shouldn’t you do the same?

FOOTNOTE: As I wrote above:

“Today’s ransomware attacks are limited to disk drives inside a computer or to distant disk drives connected to by networking. In the Windows world, this usually means a disk drive on a network that is mapped to a drive letter in the local computer (such as Drive E: or something similar).”

There is an exception: several third-party software producers offer software that WILL map files stored in the cloud to make them look like local disk drives. For instance, the products can be used to make Dropbox or Google Drive or most any other cloud-based files appear as Drive E: in Windows Explorer or as a local drive in Macintosh Finder. You can find many examples of this by starting at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=map+a+remote+drive&t=brave&ia=web.

Using a mapped drive greatly increases the odds of a ransomware infection. The ransomware attack probably can reach your cloud-based files by going through the third-party software that logically maps those files to a local drive.

If you are using such a remote file mapping product, you probably want to uninstall it NOW.

Categories: Scams, Viruses & Malware

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