Petya ransomware: What is it? Is it dangerous? How to protect yourself – all you need to know

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A major cyber attack is currently wreaking havoc for companies throughout Europe, the US, the Middle East and Australia.

The attack has resulted in the files of infected computers being locked and held for ransom, paralyzing the computer systems of banks, government offices, logistic networks and major multinational organisations.

But what is ransomware, how serious is the threat from this new Petya ransomware attack and how can you protect yourself?

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of cyber attack which locks all your files, making them inaccessible unless a payment is paid. Computers infected with ransomware generally become inaccessible apart from the notice demanding payment.

If your computer is infected with ransomware the general advice is to not pay the ransom as there is no guarantee that you will recover your files even if the ransom is paid. Even if files are returned to you, there is a good chance they may still be compromised.

What is the Petya ransomware?

Petya is a dangerous form of ransomware and one of the most difficult to recover locked files.

Petya works by not only locking up files but also the hard drive they are stored on.

Some reports claim that Tuesday’s attack is the result of a strain of the Petya ransomware.

However, a separate report from Kaspersky claimed the attack was caused by a new form of ransomware dubbed NotPetya.

How is it similar to WannaCry?

Experts say there are similarities between Petya and WannaCry and that the two programs are linked as they both use Eternal Blue, the NSA hacking tool which exploits holes in Microsoft Windows. Eternal Blue was leaked by hackers earlier this year.

How serious is the threat from Petya and should you be worried?

Experts believe Petya is potentially much more serious than WannaCry because as of yet there is no known ‘kill switch’ for this latest form of ransomware. At the time of writing Petya had already infected almost 3,000 computers in dozens of countries around the world. However, for most users it is fairly easy to avoid.

How to protect yourself from Petya

Petya so far is only targeting computers running older versions of Windows. If you run Windows 10, with the latest security updates installed you should be OK.

Other ways to avoid Petya is to avoid clicking on unusual links which may appear via email, especially if they are from sources you are not familiar with, and even pay close attention to those which appear to have been sent from one of your contacts.

And of course, make sure you have antivirus software installed and kept up to date.

What if it’s too late? Should you pay the ransom?

NO!

Paying the ransom is no guarantee you will get your files back and is likely to only encourage further ransomware attack.

The advice is to restore infected files from backups.

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