The sad truth today is that if you do suffer from a ransomware attack, while you can try the free tools featured below to counter it, chances are you are not going to be able to remove much of the ransomware that is now on the market.
However, there is some good news, the first of which is that ransomware has become much more targeted these days, so that ordinary users are less likely to suffer from it. There are also privacy and security tools for general users, such as a free VPN that could help keep you safer online.
Additionally, most of the best antivirus software and anti-malware software will have protections against ransomware built in, so we've featured these at the top of our list - after all, prevention is better than treatment.
On top of this, for ordinary users backing up their most import files offline or online through a cloud storage solution, chances are they can recover them if you access them from a different machine.
For businesses, really it's long past time to have a full disaster recovery software platform in place, to ensure that - should a ransomware attack get past your existing endpoint security - you can at least recover everything you need from a recent or even real-time backup.
Altogether, ransomware remains bad news and its likely to become worse, and while we've tried to list the best tools for removing it, do be aware that they have limitations and that prevention is the much better strategy.
If you haven't yet fallen victim to a ransomware attack and want to protect your PC proactively, consider a dedicated prevention tool like ZoneAlarm Anti-Ransomware, which uses behavioral analysis to identify processes that act like ransomware – even if it's not yet a specific known threat – and automatically backs up your files if it detects anything. It carries a subscription fee, so we haven't included it in our main roundup, but $1.99 per month for one PC is a modest fee compared to the ransoms charged by criminals.
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Best protection against ransomware-at a glance
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
- Avast Antivirus
- Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus
- AVG Antivirus
- ESET NOD32 Antivirus
The best ransomware protection
Get a 50-60% discount on Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020
TechRadar's #1 rated antivirus in a world packed with loads of virus protection providers, and doesn't even cost that much more than free antivirus downloads.
Note: For our Bitdefender Antivirus Plus review, we tested the 2019 version. This was updated and renamed to 2020 in July this year.
One at any rankings of big independent antivirus, and you’ll see that Bitdefender's premium security products always rise to the top.
Bidefender tends to be reliable and accurate in its virus detecting, boasting web filtering to block access to malicious sites, as well as a secure browser that keeps your online banking and shopping transactions safe. Plus, there's a password manager which auto-completes credit card details in web forms. It also scores high for its excellent anti-phishing module, which alerts you to malicious links in your search engine results and blocks access to dangerous sites.
That’s not all: of course, there's also the multi-layer ransomware protection that heuristically learns the behavior of such threats to keep you safe as well as the ability to scan all your linked devices via the Bitdefender Central mobile app.
There are one or two issues – it grabs more resources than average, and might conflict with some programs – but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is still a likeable package which offers excellent detection rates, great performance, and more than enough bonus features to justify the price.
Bitdefender Internet Security builds on AVP and triples the number of devices covered plus offers anti-spam, firewall, parental advisor and file encryption features.
For a little bit more you can purchase the Bitdefender Total Security edition. It adds all of the above and covers up to five PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 | 1 year |
$59.99 $23.99 | 60% off
Not only is this one of the cheapest antivirus deals, it's coming from the world's best provider. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus come swith the added bonus of a VPN and Safepay as well as boasting multi-layer ransomware protection. This constantly tracks any malware and records the cyberthreat's pattern to keep you secure online.
Solid protection against ransomware
Avast offers one of the most competent internet protection suites out there. While the company is famous for providing free antivirus software, it's worth noting that this now comes bundled with an anti-malware feature that uses behavioral monitoring to spot rogue programs.
What's even better is that not only are Avast's basic products free, but they are also available for mobile devices as well as for desktops, which makes Avast a particular ideal choice if you have multiple devices you need to check.
However, for ransomware protection you will need the paid-for software rather than free, and while some people might prefer to have a free internet security suite, the low cost of the Avast program far outweighs the costs and losses of a ransomware attack.
For business users, there are paid-for internet security options to cover a range of needs and options.
Lightweight ransomware protection
Just about every antivirus tool claims to be ‘lightweight’, but Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus is really the only one to deliver on this front. Installation takes seconds, the program files barely use 2MB of your hard drive, RAM footprint is tiny, and there are no bulky signature updates to tie up your bandwidth.
Considering this, there's no compromise on features, which makes it all the more impressive. Along with the core protection, there's smart behavior monitoring, accurate real-time anti-phishing, a firewall and network connection monitor, enhanced anti-ransomware, and other interesting bonuses.
It's not easy to compare Webroot's accuracy with the competition, as the big testing labs rarely evaluate the company's products. However, when they are reviewed, they generally score high, and our own tests show solid and reliable protection.
Features include always-on security, identity protection, real-time anti-phishing, firewall monitor.
There's a lot to love about SecureAnywhere Antivirus, and Webroot's 70-day 100% money-back guarantee suggests its confident in the product as well. If you're sick of overly complex and bloated engines, Webroot is a worthy contender for you.
Another good defense against ransomware
If you're looking for ransomware protection that keeps quiet and won't disturb your work, be warned – AVG Antivirus Free is quite vocal with its notifications, and irks us from time to time with pop-ups telling us we've done something fantastic with regard to our online security.
As a ransomware shield and anti-malware app, though, it's very good. The dashboard is user-friendly, there's protection not just from downloadable threats, but from dodgy links too, and you can use your mobile to scan your PC remotely, which is pretty clever.
Although the free version offers basic antivirus protection, you really need to upgrade to the paid version to get the full-featured protection against ransomware, as well as additional security software protections such as data encryption options as well as a firewall.
Expert-level antivirus for the more experienced user
If you judge antivirus software on the length of its feature list, ESET NOD32 Antivirus might be a bit of a disappointment. There’s no firewall, password manager, file shredder, vulnerability scanner or any of the bundled bonuses you'll often find in its rivals.
This doesn't mean the package is short on power, however. It's just more focused on the fundamentals. ESET NOD32 Antivirus comes with real-time malware protection, some of the best heuristic detection around, an anti-ransomware layer, exploit protection, URL filtering to block malicious websites, and modules to prevent attacks using PowerShell and malicious scripts.
A Device Control module limits the risk of infection from other devices by controlling access to USB sticks, external hard drives, optical storage media, even devices connecting by Bluetooth and FireWire. It's an unusual addition, but could make a difference if others are regularly plugging devices into your PC.
Just bear in mind that ESET NOD32 Antivirus isn't aimed at beginners. The interface is clumsy sometimes, some features are very advanced, and even the Help isn't always helpful.
Experienced users will appreciate ESET’s power and configurability, however. Above-average protection does a good job of keeping you safe, and a lightweight design ensures the package won't slow you down.
ESET Internet Security builds on NOD 32 and triples the number of devices covered plus offers firewall, botnet protection, webcam protection, antispam and more.
Alternatively, you can purchase the ESET Smart Security Premium edition for not much more. It adds all of the above as well as password management and secure data.
Best ransomware removal software-at a glance
- Malwarebytes Anti-Malware
- Avast Free Ransomware Decryption Tools
- Trend Micro Ransomware File Decryptor
- Trend Micro Screen Unlocker Tools
- Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool
The best malware removal software available right now is: Malwarebytes Premium
If you're suffering from a malware infection and free software isn't getting the job done, Malwarebytes Premium could be the silver bullet you need. It uses heuristic analysis to identify new strains of malware, cleans up existing infections, helps protect you from phishing scams, and helps stop you downloading further malicious software in the future, including ransomware.
The most effective ransomware remover
If you have a ransomware infection, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware should be your first port of call. It’s updated daily, so you can trust it to identify and remove new threats the minute they appear.
The first time you install Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, you’re given a 14-day trial of the premium edition, which includes preventative tools like real-time scanning and specific protection from ransomware. After two weeks, it reverts to the basic free version. This has to be activated manually, but is still a top-notch security tool. We recommend running it at least once a week to check or any nasties that you haven't noticed, or if you notice that your web browser has suddenly started acting strangely (likely a result of adware).
Last year, Malwarebytes bought Adwcleaner, which – as its name suggests – targets and removes annoying programs that hijack your browser by changing your homepage, resetting your default search engine, or adding unwanted toolbars. It’s also available free, and along with Anti-Malware, is a great addition to your security toolkit.
Solutions designed to defeat different strains of ransomware
Not all ransomware encrypts data in the same way, so security software providers have to create specific solutions as new threats emerge. At the time of writing, the security experts at Avast have developed Free Ransomware Decryption Tools to tackle 21 different strains of file-locking ransomware.
To help you work out which one you need, Avast has provided a detailed description of how each form of ransomware works, what extension you’ll see on the encrypted files, and an example of the type of message the virus creators have prepared for their victims.
Once you’ve downloaded the appropriate tool, it will guide you through the process of wiping out the ransomware without paying the criminals. You’ll need to provide two versions of the same file – an encrypted one, and the original.
This will be easiest if you made a backup before the infection, but Avast also suggests locations where you might be able to find unaffected original files. The tool will then compare the two and use the results to determine the password.
A single download that can defeat 27 breeds of ransomware
Trend Micro Ransomware File Decryptor is updated regularly with new ransomware definitions, and at the time of writing it can release files locked by 27 different types of ransomware and their variants.
Unlike Avast, Trend Micro bundles all its decryption tools into one bundle, but you still need to tell it what form of ransomware it’s dealing with. Trend Micro’s site provides information to help you identify your particular infection, plus contact details for its technical support department if you’re not sure.
Once that’s done, provide a sample file for the Decryptor to analyze, and it will get to work. Decryption can take anything from a couple of minutes to several hours, depending on the type of encryption used.
The File Decryptor Tool isn’t perfect – some forms of ransomware are particularly tricky, and can only be partially decrypted – but the company is constantly working to improve it, and it’s an excellent tool for use in an emergency.
Release a locked PC, even if you can't access Safe Mode
There are two Trend Micro Ransomware Screen Unlocker Tools – one for PCs that are locked so you can’t log into Normal Mode, but you can access Safe Mode with Networking via the BIOS menu, and another for situations where both mode are blocked.
The first of these can be downloaded directly on the affected PC in Safe Mode with Networking. Once it’s installed, reboot the PC into Normal Mode (with the locked screen) and tap [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[T]+[I] to scan for ransomware and remove it,
The other version of the tool has to be downloaded using an uninfected computer and saved to a USB stick. You can then use to boot the locked machine. Once initiated, the unlocker will perform a scan, then remove any ransomware it detects, releasing your PC.
Like Trend Micro’s File Decryptor, the two versions of Screen Unlocker benefit from regular updates to combat new forms of ransomware.
Comprehensive ransomware protection for your small business
Ransomware on your home computer is bad enough, but an infection that locks you out of your business PCs could be an absolute disaster. Your accounts, customer data, client information and work could all be encrypted – and it could affect multiple machines on the same network.
Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool for Business is designed to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) protect their data from such a catastrophe. Like Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware, it’s a preventative tool designed to prevent infection in the first place rather than decrypt files or unlock your desktop.
Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool runs happily alongside your regular security suite, monitoring network activity for anything that matches known ransomware behavior. Its threat database is stored on Kaspersky’s cloud servers, so updates are pushed out to all users immediately