What is the best free ransomware protection?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts files on a device and demands payment in order to decrypt them. As ransomware attacks become more prevalent, finding reliable protection against them is crucial for individuals and organizations alike. Thankfully, there are some excellent free options available.

Quick answers

The best free ransomware protection options include Windows Defender, Malwarebytes, Avast Free Antivirus, Sophos Home Free, and Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. These provide strong real-time scanning and behavior monitoring to catch ransomware before it can encrypt files. Some key features to look for include:

  • Real-time scanning of downloads, apps, files, and websites
  • Behavior monitoring to detect ransomware-like activity
  • Machine learning algorithms to identify new strains of ransomware
  • Cloud-delivered and offline protection
  • Anti-exploit technology
  • Restore tools to help recover encrypted files

What are the main types of ransomware protection needed?

There are a few key types of protection needed to guard against ransomware attacks:

  • Real-time scanning – Scans files, downloads, websites, email attachments, etc. in real-time to catch threats before they execute.
  • Behavior monitoring – Watches for suspicious behaviors associated with ransomware like file encryption, changes to file extensions, and communication with command and control servers.
  • Cloud protection – Uses the cloud to receive updates on new ransomware strains for better detection.
  • Network protection – Blocks traffic to known command and control servers that coordinate ransomware campaigns.
  • Restore tools – Allow recovery of files encrypted by ransomware through backups and other restore options.

How does ransomware infect devices?

Ransomware typically infects devices in a few common ways:

  • Phishing emails – Malicious emails with infected attachments or links are the #1 vector for ransomware. Users open attachments or click links which install the ransomware.
  • Compromised websites – Websites compromised to distribute malware through drive-by downloads that install ransomware just by visiting the site.
  • Software bundles – Some free software bundles install ransomware along with other programs as part of the setup process.
  • Remote desktop access – Brute forcing weak RDP passwords enables remote installation of ransomware.
  • Network propagation – Wormable ransomware like WannaCry spreads itself across networks by exploiting vulnerabilities.

What damage can ransomware cause?

Ransomware can cause major damage including:

  • Encryption of personal files like documents, photos, videos, etc. Making them inaccessible without the decryption key.
  • Encryption of critical business or infrastructure files. For example medical records at hospitals.
  • Loss of access to systems that leads to business disruption or shutdown.
  • Permanent data loss if decryption is not possible after the attack.
  • Reputational damage and loss of customer trust following an attack.
  • Financial losses associated with paying ransoms, system recovery, lost business, etc.

What are the different types of ransomware?

Some common types of ransomware include:

  • Scareware – Pretends to encrypt files to scare users into paying, but doesn’t actually encrypt files.
  • Locker ransomware – Locks users out of their devices without encrypting files.
  • Encrypting ransomware – Encrypts personal files and demands payment for decryption key.
  • Doxware – Exfiltrates sensitive data prior to encryption and threatens to publish it if ransom isn’t paid.
  • RaaS – Ransomware-as-a-Service kits allow custom ransomware campaigns without technical skills.

What are the telltale signs of a ransomware attack?

Signs that may indicate ransomware activity include:

  • Inability to access files, with a ransom note left on the desktop
  • Files having new extensions like .encrypted or .locked
  • Programs on the computer crashing or running slower than usual
  • Anti-virus software being disabled
  • Large numbers of files being encrypted in a short timeframe
  • Unusual network behavior like system connections to Tor or external IPs

What is the average ransom amount demanded by attackers?

The average ransom amount varies significantly based on the target, but tends to be:

  • Individuals – Several hundred to a few thousand dollars worth of cryptocurrency.
  • Small businesses – High hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Local governments – Up to several hundred thousand dollars.
  • Large organizations – Over $1 million in some cases.

However, many attackers will accept smaller payments if victims claim they cannot pay the full amount.

Should ransomware ransom demands ever be paid?

There are a few factors to consider regarding paying ransom demands:

  • Payment is no guarantee – Attackers may still not provide working decryption keys after being paid.
  • Funding criminal entities – Paying ransoms funds and incentivizes more ransomware campaigns.
  • Data may be exfiltrated – Even if you pay, stolen data may still be published or sold.

That being said, paying the ransom may be the most cost-effective way to resume business operations if the encrypted data is absolutely essential and backups are unavailable. The decision needs to be weighed carefully.

What is the best way to recover encrypted files without paying ransom?

Options for potentially recovering encrypted files without paying ransom include:

  • Offline backups – Restore from backups not connected to the infected system.
  • Cloud backups – Use cloud backup snapshots made prior to infection to restore files.
  • Shadow copies – Some ransomware does not delete Volume Shadow Copies which can restore files.
  • Decryption tools – Free decryption tools are sometimes released for older ransomware strains.
  • Data recovery – Specialized firms may be able to recover fragments of data using forensic techniques.

How can files be backed up to prevent ransomware encryption?

Effective backup strategies to protect against ransomware include:

  • Maintaining offline backups disconnected from your network and devices.
  • Storing backups on removable media like external drives that can be disconnected.
  • Backing up important files to a cloud storage service with versioning enabled.
  • Having a solid backup schedule with regular and frequent backups.
  • Testing backups to ensure files can be restored properly.

What security practices help prevent ransomware infections?

Good security practices to reduce the risk of ransomware include:

  • Installing software updates and patches to eliminate vulnerabilities.
  • Using strong passwords and multi-factor authentication everywhere.
  • Running a reputable antivirus solution with ransomware protection.
  • Avoiding suspicious links/attachments and pirated software.
  • Restricting tools like PowerShell and RDP to limit attack vectors.
  • Segmenting networks and using VLANs to limit wormable spread.
  • Educating employees on ransomware threats and phishing attacks.

How can potential ransomware attacks be detected?

Monitoring tools that can detect potential ransomware activity include:

  • Firewall and IPS logs – Unusual traffic like connections to Tor nodes or botnet IPs.
  • Email security – Catching ransomware being distributed via phishing emails.
  • EDR tools – Endpoint detection tools watching for ransomware behavior patterns.
  • Honeypots – Decoy network segments to observe malware behavior.
  • File integrity monitoring – Alerts on suspicious file modifications like encryption.

What steps should be taken if ransomware infects your system?

If ransomware hits your device or network, key steps include:

  1. Isolate the infected device immediately to prevent further spread.
  2. Determine the strain of ransomware if possible for insight into decryption options.
  3. Evaluate restore options using backups or other methods.
  4. Begin the system rebuild and recovery process.
  5. Investigate the attack to determine the initial infection vector.
  6. Evaluate security controls to prevent reinfection moving forward.

Which companies offer free ransomware protection software?

Some top providers of free ransomware protection tools include:

Company Free Product
Microsoft Windows Defender
Malwarebytes Malwarebytes Free
Avast Avast Free Antivirus
Sophos Sophos Home Free
Bitdefender Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

How does Windows Defender protect against ransomware?

Windows Defender provides ransomware protection through:

  • Controlled folder access – Prevents unauthorized changes to sensitive files.
  • Attack surface reduction rules – Blocks actions commonly used by ransomware.
  • Next generation protection – Uses AI to detect ransomware behavior.
  • Tamper protection – Prevents malicious disabling of security features.
  • Network protection – Blocks communications with known command and control servers.

Combined, these capabilities provide real-time detection of ransomware activity to prevent file encryption.


The threat of ransomware is rising, making reliable protection critical. Thankfully, solutions like Windows Defender provide enterprise-grade prevention without needing to pay a premium. Focusing on prevention through scanning, behavior monitoring, restoring from backup, and user education offers a solid multi-layer strategy against ransomware attacks.