When we think of ransom, we typically think of a black-and-white movie with a kidnapper leaving notes made from a variety of newspaper cuttings. Today, ransom is much less melodramatic, much more common and targets something you might not expect: your computer files.
Ransomware has become the number one threat on the internet today.
It is now added to the list of things that can kill your computer, alongside bugs and crashes.
What is ransomware?
Hackers have created a new bug that can take over your computer, encrypt all of your files, lock your computer and display a menacing countdown message to create a heightened sense of urgency to pay a ransom to retrieve access to your files. This is why it’s been branded “ransomware.”
Often times, affected companies or individuals are simply giving in and paying up. But that doesn’t always guarantee a happy ending.
- Once the money is received, the hacker sometimes decrypts the computer as promised and everyone goes on their merry way. But other times, victims fork over the cash only to have the hackers disappear, keeping the files locked and inaccessible – as if you never paid the ransom.
- One study estimates that in its first 100 days as a scheme, ransomware infected 250,000 computers and earned the hackers a collected $6 million in bitcoins. If that trend continues, we can assume that in the past two years at least 24 million computers have been hacked – including one major hospital that reportedly paid over $17,000 to get their files back.
The question now is what you should do to protect against ransomware.
1. Don’t trust online solutions
There are many software programs that promise to rid your computer of ransomware. Ironically, some of those alleged file-saving downloads are actually ransomware in disguise.
Your best bet is to back up your files on a regular basis using an external hard drive, a separate computer or even on paper. Anything you do will ensure that when the hackers come, you’ll already have those encrypted files elsewhere. It’s advisable to check at least once a month to ensure everything you need is safely backed up.
2. Hold onto your money
While it might seem like the only option that gives you a chance to get your files back, the FBI has issued a statement asking people not to pay the virtual ransoms. If hackers are paid, they have more incentive to continue, and payment really doesn’t influence whether they decrypt your files or not. If you’re desperate for your files, paying may seem like the only option, but consider the difference that could be made if no one paid them anymore. Crime syndicates would be stopped without any work from the FBI.
3. Call the cops, but don’t hold your breath
Many people are currently asking whether anything significant has been done by the FBI to this point. The FBI is making progress, but making arrests isn’t easy since most of the top cybercriminals are located outside of the United States.
4. Click with Caution
While the FBI has its best men on the task of catching these cyber culprits, it’s your responsibility to be as safe as possible until they do.
- Don’t click on any sketchy-looking links.
- Purchase security software from a trusted provider such as Norton, McAfee or other similar sources.
- Be cautious of side panel advertisements on web pages.This is a new trick for Ransomware.
- Do not open or download email attachments that are coming to you from someone you don’t trust.
- Even if an email appears to be from someone you trust, ask yourself if the email is typical of the person sending it to you.If in doubt, contact the sender before taking action on the email.
Ransom is no longer a thing of black-and-white movies; but in the digital age, it’s still our job to protect ourselves. Take a security pause before you perform an action on an email, link attachment or web site to ensure you are making the best security decision and not becoming the victim of ransomware.
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