Ransomware: What it is and how to deal with it
“Malware” and “viruses” are probably becoming familiar words to you if a computer or smartphone is part of your daily life. But, there is a new threat moving across the internet thanks to cyber criminals. Known as “ransomware,” it is software that is installed on your computer, which locks and often encrypts your files. A message pops up to inform you that the files are locked, and you are given instructions on how much to pay the cybercriminal in exchange for your files. The ransom could be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Right now, the most widespread ransomware is CTB Locker. It often infects computers through legitimate looking emails, but it can also be spread in newsgroup postings, peer-to-peer networks and internet chatrooms. This software is also capable of hiding from anti-virus programs, so even having that isn’t enough. Being cautious about internet downloads is a critical part of protecting yourself.
Routine backups of your files are an important part of protecting your information. Physical hard drives or flash drives are good options. Cloud backup is also an option but has a reoccurring expense. The key with ransomware is awareness. Know what you are clicking on, and be cautious about what you download. Invest in a decent anti-virus program and check to see if it has been updated to deal with ransomware. The FBI also urges computer users to keep your software and web browser up-to-date, to use strong passwords, use a pop-up blocker, be careful what you download, don’t open attachments in unsolicited e-mails, even if they come from people in your contact list, and never click on suspicious links in emails.
If you do find yourself infected with ransomware, there a few things you can do. First, alert the authorities. There isn’t much they can do to help you, but they need to be aware of the crime. Secondly, you should turn off your infected computer, and if it is connected to a network, disconnect it. This won’t protect your information or get rid of the ransomware, but it will protect other machines that may be on the same network being infected as well. Finally, you have to decide whether you are going to pay the ransom. There is no absolute answer for this. While a computer can be cleared of the ransomware, the encryption is almost impossible to break without the code. If you decide not to pay the ransom, then that information is gone unless you have a backup. However, keep in mind that paying the ransom does not guarantee that you will be given access to your files, and it will not prevent them from doing this to you again.
Ransomware is on the rise and will likely continue to for several more years. Take some time to back up your information, invest in good anti-virus software and be mindful of what you download so your computer can continue to be a useful tool and not a burden.