The early 2000’s- the days when malware would “only” corrupt system files, bring computers to a crawl, and spam your friends and family. Fast forward to the world of today and our heavy reliance on the internet and computer systems. Let’s face it, most things revolve around the use of a computer, from sharing photos of your latest vacation, to online banking, to cloud storage for business or personal use. This is where Ransomware becomes a huge threat to us.
While not at all new, the use of ransomware is growing and becoming a larger and more frequent threat to individuals and businesses alike. Imagine your computer to send anything from a financial report to your yearly Christmas letter, but instead of easily sending them usual, you have been blocked from those files, or your computer entirely. Like a scene from a Liam Neeson movie, the ransom note demands payment within a certain amount of time, lest you never see your precious files ever again. Quite often, even after paying for the safe return of these files, you never actually regain access.
One of the most famous ransomware is Cryptolocker. Appearing in late 2013, it demanded a payment using Bitcoin or a pre-paid voucher in exchange for a pass-key that would possibly allow access to your files. By the time this Malware was largely eliminated, it was estimated over $3 million had been collected. Sadly, this was not a one time case. In years since, newer more complex versions of Cryptolocker have appeared. Variants of Cryptolocker have collected over $100 million from infected users; from Cryptowall 3.0 to Reveton ransomware, which warned individuals that their computers had been identified as being associated with child pornography websites and they would need to pay a fine to unlock their system.
So, what are some of the best ways to protect yourself and mitigate the chances of becoming a victim of ransomware? The FBI recommends having antivirus software not only installed on your electronics, but also kept up to date. Malware is constantly evolving and what your current antivirus software is capable of protecting you against today may not be effective tomorrow. The FBI also suggests varying your passwords from site to site, not opening attachments from unsolicited emails, avoiding suspicious websites and only downloading software (particularly free software) from trusted sites. “There will always be new variants of viruses that your [antivirus] program may not be able to catch until the manufacturers have seen it before” noted Duran Carmen, a senior IT professional with One Support.
Another strong recommendation from not only the FBI, but industry experts, is to make sure you are constantly backing up your data. This does not mean backing up data to online storage services like the cloud or other various private services, as these can be just as vulnerable at times. Remember when celebrities had their phones hacked in 2014? The safer and more secure option for securing your data is to consider backing up files on external hard drives and other storage devices, which you can completely detach from the web.
Now you are probably asking “So what do I do when my computer is infected by ransomware?” Experts recommend first reporting ransomware infections to the FBI’s IC3 division and disconnecting your computer from the network it’s on, as the malware can still infect other computers on the same network. Next, you must decide if you want to pay the ransom. Experts warn this is not often the best solution, as there is a chance that they may not unlock your computer or they will simply lock your computer again after payment. Giving in to their demands also encourages the continuation and creation of more ransomware. Often the best solutions (if you have backed up your files to an external hard drive) is to boot your computer in safe mode and use an on-demand virus scanner to remove the virus or complete a system restore of your computer. The most drastic solution is to complete a “factory reset” of your computer, which wipes everything and restores it to factory settings.
In today’s increasingly networked world it is important to keep yourself aware, use proper antivirus software and frequently back up your computer to an external hard drive. If you aren’t quite sure how to keep your computer safe, there is nothing to be ashamed about. Reach out to experts like those at One Support. They’ll not only implement the steps needed to help prevent this in the first place and be not only the hero your computer needs right now, but the one it deserves too.