Don’t want ransomware to rock your universe? Add this to your towel

These days, it is not Vogon poetry that’s the most widespread risk one can encounter in the universe, but rather ransomware, explains ESET's Ondrej Kubovič.

These days, it is not Vogon poetry that’s the most widespread risk one can encounter in the universe, but rather ransomware, explains ESET’s Ondrej Kubovič.

What is the most important thing you should take with you on a cosmic trip? As highlighted by an annual celebration on May 25th, dubbed Towel Day, it is the humble towel. As the late author Douglas Adams put it in his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

No matter how universal the towel might be, it won’t be much help if you hit the information superhighway instead of the interstellar one. These days, it is not Vogon poetry that’s the most widespread risk one can encounter, but rather ransomware.

Disguised as an email attachment, an invoice or some other important stuff, it lures users into permitting its malicious actions, and it can get very nasty, even nastier than some of the many creatures in the entire galaxy. For instance, Petya won’t even allow you to start your operating system after it fiddles with the Master Boot Record.

Or Jigsaw, which starts a timer and then deletes more and more files with each hour that passes by. No, it will not stop with the 42nd piece of data deletes, nor will it wait for the world – ordered and paid for by mice – to generate the ultimate question in life, the universe and everything else.

Luckily, for both of these nasty virtual creations, there is a free decryptor (for Jigsaw, for Petya) available online, so users don’t have to use the Infinite Improbability Drive to (maybe) get their files back.

However, there are also other ransomware families that users should try avoiding even more than the two-headed president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox; Locky and Cerber being some of the most dangerous examples. As their names suggest, they have the ability to encrypt valuable files on a victim’s computer with very strong encryption, putting them beyond reach, even if the users keep their towels with them at all times.

So how can you stay protected in a galaxy where ransomware is spreading? If you want to avoid the psychological state of the always depressed Paranoid Android Marvin, here are a few things you should prepare along with your towel:

  1. Keep your operating system and apps updated and patched
  2. Use a reliable security solution
  3. Create backups regularly and keep them stored offline where they will remain out of reach for malware

Oh and one more thing – don’t forget to celebrate Towel Day on May 25th, and let’s hope that this will not be the day when planet Earth gets demolished by a Vogon construction fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.