What is ransomware?

Simply put, ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files found on a compromised system and then asks victims to pay a ransom to regain access to their own data.

The “ransom” money could be anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course, there is never any guarantee that victims will recover access to their files even after they have paid. But, it makes sense to have the best ransomware protection solutions in place anyways.

We will have a look at all things ransomware in detail below, but if you just want to know which solutions offer the best defense, here is the list of the five best ransomware protection solutions:

  1. Acronis Ransomware Protection Free solution that can go toe-to-toe with the best of the ransomware floating around the Internet today. One of the best solutions for zero-day attacks.
  2. Malwarebytes Anti-ransomware Uses behavior analysis to uncover malicious intent; something no anti-virus can really accomplish.
  3. Trend Micro RansomBuster Use this ransomware protection tool to tackle the problem by simply storing data and files in a secure folder and blocking all unauthorized access to it.
  4. Webroot SecureAnywhere For users who want a precise tool that is both effective in fighting ransomware and goes easy on resource consumption. This tool is a perfect choice for individuals and small businesses.
  5. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus By far one of the best anti-ransomware solutions out there. This is a full-defense suite for those who take their safety seriously – not just against ransomware.

Do you really need protection against ransomware?

If you think your antivirus solution provides enough protection against malware attacks, you’ve got another think coming.

You see, the problem with an antivirus solution is that it may miss a newly released ransomware as the earliest they will be aware of it is after the next update – when the manufacturer updates their blacklist or malware database.

Meanwhile, an anti-ransomware solution can stop a ransomware attack by tracking processes or programs by checking if they make symptomatic changes and show any suspicious behaviors or activities.

Then again, even if your antivirus were to detect a malware attack, it still wouldn’t be able to recover the files that had been encrypted by ransomware. Decryption is the forte of anti-ransomware tools.

And so, it makes perfect sense to have an anti-ransomware protection software running in addition to an antivirus solution. This is unless, of course, you choose to install an antivirus solution that includes a ransomware protection tool among its features. We will have a look at a couple of those.

How serious a threat is it?

As far as ransomware attacks go, 2017 will always be remembered as the year this particular type of malware dominated global cyber-attack headlines. For example:

  • Ransomware creators have a good incentive to keep pursuing their trade: it is estimated that they made $1 billion in paid ransoms that year alone
  • The WannaCry ransomware struck in May of that year and, by the time the dust had settled, it had wreaked havoc on the digital world: it brought hospitals down to the extent of crippling the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, hit communications providers, as well as around 10,000 other organizations, an estimated 200,000 personal victims, and reached victims in over 150 countries

Petya A Screen ransomewareSource: Wikimedia Commons

Although the threats had died down by the end of the year, it wasn’t exactly the end of the onslaught. In 2018, the ransomware threat continued and some of the biggest companies on the planet, and even entire cities’ networks, were held ransom:

  • In March, the City of Atlanta was hit with the SamSam ransomware but refused to pay the $51,000 ransom. Later, an initial estimate of the recovery bill would put it at around $3 million. That figure quickly shot up to $11 million and could have even have gone as high as $17 million.
  • In August, TSMC, a major Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturer that supplies companies like Apple, was hit with a new version of the WannaCry ransomware; the attack brought the company’s manufacturing to a grinding halt

Things weren’t much better in 2019; in fact, the number of ransomware attacks doubled and, what’s worse, the malware themselves became even more powerful. Some examples:

  • Local U.S. governments continued to be targeted, an example being the Administrative Office of the Georgia Courts which had its systems knocked offline.
  • Large industries were also hit hard as was the case with Norwegian aluminum company Norsk Hydro; hackers asked for an initial ransom after they had gotten a foothold in the company’s network; they later managed to disable over 20,000 of its computers which were spread across the globe. Final damage: over 50 million dollars.

Sadly, if these recent past years are anything to go by, the future forecast doesn’t look too encouraging. It is anticipated that the attacks will continue to become even more devastating, while the malware grows sneakier as hackers become more clever and target specific industries or victims.

Why should a small business worry about ransomware?

Simply put, there are three main reasons:

  • A growing trend: SMBs are increasingly being targeted by hackers; so it’s only a matter of time before you get hit too – especially if you are growing quickly.
  • Being the perfect target: SMBs present juicier targets than individuals, they are also less secure than bigger businesses – they sit in a sweet spot.
  • No consequences: SMBs don’t have the power to track down or pursue hackers; even if they find out who was responsible for a ransomware attack they still won’t be able to do much about it – this encourages the attackers.

How can a ransomware attack affect your business?

As we have just seen, and apart from the initial loss of data and the crippling of productivity, the fallout from a ransomware attack can continue to affect businesses for a long time after the attack.

Let’s have a look at how:

  • An attack can bring your business’ processes to a halt – with your hardware under attack, there is no way you will be able to run your processes or cater to your customers. This will result in a loss of customer trust and, eventually, a decline in profits.
  • Loss of sensitive and critical data – a malware infection can result in your business’ data being lost which could also stop you from continuing to work. What’s worse is that your clients’ information could also be stolen which puts them at risk.
  • The spread of misinformation – an undetected malware attack could take control of your data and applications and then use it to create fake data and report incorrect results. If you unwittingly continue to use them the end-results can only be worse and might derail your business’ forecast strategy.
  • Denial-of-Services (DoS) attacks – malware can be used to bring your business to its knees by simply making it inaccessible to the outside world. On the other hand, scripts run from within your network can be used to isolate you from the data or clients you may need from the outside world. Either way, your business will be starved of input which could cause irreversible damage if, for example, your sales depend on real-time access.

These are only a few of many ways your business can be hurt by a malware attack. And so, the question now becomes: what are the best ransomware protection solutions to choose from?

The 5 best ransomware protection tools

1. Acronis Ransomware Protection

Although it is also offered as part of the more comprehensive Acronis True Image backup utility, the Acronis Ransomware Protection tool is a free, standalone anti-ransomware tool that also has all the features and capabilities. Plus, it comes with 5GB of hosted online backup.

It is in the cloud, where all the important data the user chooses to protect is stored. And, it is this online backup that is used as a restore point in case of a ransomware attack.

Of course, this is in addition to the local cache of backup files – which Acronis Ransomware Protection guards against attacks by denying access to it. Any application or process that doesn’t have the proper authorization is blocked out.

Meanwhile, the tool keeps an eye out for signs of ransomware attacks and uses “whitelisting” of other critical processes to make sure it doesn’t accidentally flag legitimate ones that need to access it. More importantly, this tool ensures its own integrity by blocking any attempts at modifying its own files.

Finally, Acronis Ransomware Protection is an anti-ransomware tool its manufacturer offers for free in the hopes you will like it so much that you will eventually opt for the premium package.

Well, they aren’t too far off the mark – it is an impressive anti-ransomware.

2. Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware

Although it started out in beta mode, this anti-ransomware tool has transformed into one of the best options on the market today. Being a tool created for a specific purpose, it doesn’t eat up processing power and, in fact, has a small digital footprint. Besides, Malwarebytes uses it as part of its bigger, more complete Malwarebytes Endpoint Protection & Response solution. This means, they are sure it is a great tool and have confidence in its performance.

Once installed, it runs in the background without the need for even an initial scan – it simply starts protecting the device and reacts in real-time. The beauty of Malwarebytes is its Ransomware Rollback [PDF] technology. Any changes that were made to files – like being encrypted by a malware – can be reversed. This is done using backups that this anti-malware solution keeps for exactly this purpose.

Malwarebytes keeps an eye on all that is going on around it and keeps tracks of which program or process did what change. When it realizes that something awry has happened it can easily roll back time and reverse any changes that were made regardless if it were a modification, deletion, or even encryption.

Thus, for those who might think that this is a lightweight tool, we can only say, “Do not underestimate it.”

The thing that makes Malwarebytes one of the best anti-malware tools out there is that it was designed to protect against the latest online threats. It, therefore, has the ability to target the most recent malware threats that even some of the other “big league” antimalware solutions haven’t been able to flag yet.

3. Trend Micro RansomBuster

RandomBuster is free, and although it is a featured component of the Trend Micro Antivirus suite, it is also available as a standalone program.

This tool addresses the ransomware issue in a somewhat different way – by baiting ransomware malware, fake files are placed in pre-selected strategic locations around a system and are then observed for any malicious behaviors or attack attempts.

Then, there is Folder Shield – a feature that creates two folders where any documents placed inside them are safe from attacks. No program can edit or delete files that are placed in these folders unless specific authorization has been granted to do so. Of course, new files can be created and this ensures their protection from their inception.

This way, instead of checking every process out or keeping track of changes that are made all over a machine, RansomBuster deals with just two folders (and any subfolders under them) to stop programs, processes or services from accessing them unless they are allowed to. Users can simply create a folder and dump all their sensitive data into it.

Finally, one other great thing about this anti-ransomware solution is that the makers – Trend Micro – have a dedicated ransomware hotline page where visitors can find a variety of tools to fight screen-locker ransomware, submit infected files for investigation, and even have data decrypted after having fallen victim to a malware attack.

4. Webroot SecureAnywhere

Webroot SecureAnywhere is an antivirus that was created for defense against all types of malware, not just ransomware. And yet, the anti-ransomware feature is so effective we had to include it in this list.

A unique feature of this tool is that it keeps track of all processes – legitimate or otherwise – and ignores or removes them depending on which set they belong to. In case of indecision, the tool keeps a close eye on the program or process until it can make a decision either way.

Being a cloud-based antivirus, Webroot SecureAnywhere is easy on resources to the point that it remains unnoticed as it goes about its task. Another advantage is that cloud processing makes it fast at scanning – even during full scans.

Webroot SecureAnywhere prevents unrecognized processes from connecting online or making irreversible changes and logs everything else they do. All the while, Webroot Central deep-analyzes the processes against a database in the cloud. Should any of them raise a flag, the tool uses its logs to reverse any changes that they may have made, including decrypting any files that were encrypted.

5. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

This is, arguably, one of the best anti-ransomware software solutions out there. Again, although Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a full anti-virus suite, and as a full-fledged defense system, it can keep your network safe from various sorts of attacks, it is the protection against ransomware that is quite remarkable.

This is mainly thanks to Safe Files, a feature that prevents sensitive documents and data storage from being accessed by unauthorized users. Bitdefender also has its own antimalware scan engine and multi-layered anti-ransomware protection.

Apart from fighting ransomware, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus also serves as an anti-phishing and anti-fraud protection tool and has an anti-tracking extension to seek and block web trackers. Are you worried about someone spying on you in the privacy of your office or living room? This suite’s Webcam Protection prevents apps from taking over your camera while Microphone Monitor alerts you when an application tries to access your microphone.

All of this is backed up by features like a password manager, banking protection, VPN, safe online shopping and much more. Surprisingly, although it is a heavy-duty antimalware solution, Bitdefender remains unobtrusive and doesn’t tie-up the resources of the machine it is supposed to be protecting.

Overall, we’d say this is an amazing all-rounded network defense suite.

Deciding on a ransomware protection tool

If you ask which one we would recommend the most, we would still be split between Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Webroot SecureAnywhere. We recommend the former for businesses and enterprises while the latter would be ideal for individual or small business users.