In October, the world observes Cyber Security Awareness Month, a time when we must ramp up our efforts to raise public awareness with the hashtag #BECYBERSAFE. This month, we delve into the alarming realm of ransomware, emphasizing the urgency of safeguarding our digital lives.

Once upon a time, kidnappers would physically abduct loved ones and demand a ransom for their release. Today, this nefarious practice has migrated into the digital sphere, affecting numerous Kenyan organizations in recent times. Ransomware, a type of malicious software (malware), has emerged as a grave threat. Its objective? To seize your valuable resources, such as sensitive data and devices, and coerce you into paying a ransom, lest your data be deleted or exposed.

Ransomware attacks are often orchestrated through widely used social media platforms like Facebook, Telegram, X (formerly Twitter), or even seemingly harmless sources like ChatGPT. Users are lured in with the promise of accessing a popular item or receiving a premium paid app for free.

Once a user takes the bait and clicks, the malware is surreptitiously installed on their device, gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data. This trove may include contact lists, messages, photo galleries, banking credentials, saved passwords, and more. In the case of organizational devices, the ransomware aims to harvest as much information as possible, including sensitive staff data. The organization itself becomes a prime target.

Upon infiltrating a device, ransomware takes complete control, sometimes even exhibiting strange behaviours when the device is unattended, opening apps, shaking images, and more. This control allows remote hackers, the perpetrators behind the malware, to carry out a range of malicious activities like sending spam emails from the compromised device, initiating unauthorized payments through payment apps, altering files and capturing photos and keystrokes, tracking the user’s location, recording audio, sending photos to random contacts, locking files and controlling device functions, copying secure files and demanding a ransom for their release.

Preventing a ransomware attack begins with adopting basic security practices. Refrain from downloading apps from unverified third-party sources and avoid clicking on links related to apps from unknown sellers.

For smartphones and computers, install and regularly update reliable antivirus software to detect and thwart potential threats.

If you suspect unusual activity on your device after clicking or installing an app, disable Internet Access immediately by disconnecting your device from the internet to prevent further data compromise.

Restart your device and, once again, disable the internet. Manually uninstall any recently added software that raised suspicion. Note that some ransomware may assume the root administrator role, making them challenging to uninstall without expert assistance.

As we enter Cyber Security Awareness Month, remember that being cyber-safe is paramount. Ransomware can wreak havoc on individuals and organizations alike. By adopting prudent online practices and staying vigilant, we can reduce the risks associated with this digital menace. #BECYBERSAFE