The best defence against CryptoLocker?

CryptoLocker is certainly one of the most concerning pieces of malicious software produced in recent years. Most likely developed by organised criminal enterprises, CryptoLocker works by using industry-standard data encryption technology to completely prevent access to your files and and folders. Once your data has been locked up in this way, it's as good as permanently lost. There is no practical way to decrypt your data again—even with antivirus software or the services of a professional data recovery firm. The ability to decrypt your files is held solely by CryptoLocker's authors—a fact they take advantage of by demanding payments of hundreds of dollars per victim in return for restoring access. In what appears to be the majority of cases, victims have simply chosen to pay up.

It's by using this method of extorting payment from affected businesses that CryptoLocker has been dubbed "ransomware" (instead of "malware"). It's an apt label; the scheme's success—compared to previous-generation malware—can be measured in the sums paid up in the short time CryptoLocker has been circulating in the wild. This is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

It's worth noting that while the IT security industry press has been in overdrive regarding CryptoLocker, few articles have highlighted that the software only targets computers running Microsoft Windows. There's a been a sharp spike in the number of Windows antivirus software vendors hurriedly releasing best-practice guides and tips for preventing further CryptoLocker infections. While informative, these guides completely ignore the elephant in the room; that one of the most effective defences against CryptoLocker is to use a system that cannot be infected with it.

It's perhaps understandable that antivirus vendors should completely gloss over this fact. Doing otherwise conflicts with their business model of profiting from expensive, performance-sapping antivirus software designed to run on the same vulnerable computer OS—namely, Microsoft Windows.

We recommend that all customers follow common-sense procedures to prevent computer malware infections—especially with software as potentially devastating as CryptoLocker. We also recommend, however, that businesses serious about preventing the productivity and financial fallout from CryptoLocker—and the many variants that are sure to follow in the near future—investigate migrating to a computer OS immune to the vast array of malicious software authored for Windows. This is especially pertinent to businesses still using Windows XP, for which support ends in April this year.

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