This free new software protects your PC against ransomware

You still still regularly back up important files though.

One of the biggest security stories of 2016 was the rise of ransomware. 

In August, a study by security company Malwarebytes said that nearly half of all U.S. businesses had been hit by the malware. More recently, Kasperksy said ransomware attacks had increased threefold against businesses worldwide from January to September. And all throughout the year, ransomware that locked down the PCs of everyday users made headlines. 

Hoping to stop ransomware in its tracks, security firm Cybereason announced a new anti-malware security program on Monday called RansomwareFree.

What is ransomware?

ransomwarefree welcome screen

Ransomware is a particularly vicious type of malware. Once it lands on a system, ransomware begins to encrypt business or personal files on the hard drive. After the task finishes, the program demands money from the victim, usually in the form of Bitcoin. Typically, once the ransom is paid the malware assists with the decryption process to release your files—but not always. One 2016 variant, for example, just took the money and deleted the files on the hard drive.

But demanding money is just the tip of the iceberg. “Really, they could ask you for anything,” says Yoel Eilat, a senior product manager with Cybereason. Case in point: The recently discovered Popcorn Time ransomware. If a user doesn’t have the cash to pay the ransom, or doesn’t want to pay the fee, they can share a link with their colleagues and friends to encourage them to download the malware. Anyone who successfully dupes two people into infecting themselves gets off scot-free—minus two friendships, that is.

Protecting yourself

It’s still early days for anti-ransomware solutions. Malwarebytes ran a beta earlier in 2016 for an anti-ransomware program, and advertises Malwarebytes 3.0 as capable of fighting this type of malware.

But Cybereason believes RansomwareFree has what it takes to lead the charge against ransomware. The desktop program for Windows 7 and up (as well as Windows Server versions 2008 R2 and 2012) uses behavioral analysis instead of regularly updated malware definitions to fight the bad programs. Cybereason took a look at all the ransomware it could find, and analyzed the programs for common characteristics. It then built a program to monitor for those behaviors.

ransomwarefreealert window

RansomwareFree’s warning window.

If RansomwareFree finds any such behavior on your system, it flags that program for your review. By default, the program suspends any activity it deems suspicious—even if it’s a legitimate encryption program that has some behavior in common with ransomware. It’s then up to the user to either enable the program, or allow RansomwareFree to permanently quarantine the malware.

Using this approach, Eilat says that with RansomwareFree enabled about four files can end up encrypted before the security program detects the problem and stops it; however, he says, for most ransomware strains “RansomFree manages to stop the ransomware even before any file is encrypted.”

RansomwareFree is a free download for home users directly from Cybereason’s site. The installation's fairly anti-climactic. It alerts you that the program placed some specially constructed files on your system that help RansomwareFree do its job. Eilat wouldn’t go into too much detail about what these files do. He would say they were there to be the “victims” of potential ransomware infections and to slow the malware down.

Other than the alert about the files, RansomwareFree just sits there not doing much of anything—at least to the casual observer. That’s probably what you want from a specialized security program like this, anyway.

The impact on you at home: Using a security program that protects against ransomware is only the first step to keeping your files safe. Cybereason also recommends that users regularly backup their files and verify that those backups can be restored should the worst happen. The usual security advice also applies: keep your operating system and programs up-to-date; disable Java and Flash when possible; don’t download programs or files from sketchy websites; and be doubly cautious downloading attachments or clicking links in email.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Windows 8Windows 10Windows 7Windows 8.1

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?