Ransomware is just one type of malware that is actively spreading across the internet. Malware is any software used to perform malicious actions. Like other types of malware, ransomware operates by encrypting certain files or your entire hard drive and locking you out of the system so that you can no longer access your files. The ransomware then notifies you that you can only decrypt the files by paying a ransom to the cyber-criminal. The ransom must be paid in some form of digital currency, often Bitcoin. The infection can be spread through a suspicious email where you may be tricked into opening an attachment or clicking on a link that leads you to the ransomware website.
One way of protecting yourself against ransomware and other types of malware is by making sure you are up-to-date with your anti-malware software. Ransomware preys on vulnerabilities in your system, and by ensuring you have the most current version of your anti-virus software installed, you will be reducing the amount of known vulnerabilities through which the Ransomware can attack.
Another useful preventative technique is to use an account with limited privileges and not an administrator account. This provides an additional layer of protection by blocking channels through which malware could install itself.
If an email attachment or link in your inbox looks suspicious, always err on the side of caution. Emails might appear to come from a friend or known sender, but if the description seems unrealistic, out of the ordinary, or has poor grammar, there is a high chance that this is a portal to malware of some sort.