A Threat to Your Modern Day Life.
Ransomware is a blackmail scam, using harmful software (‘malware’) that:
- Blocks you from accessing your computer files
- Threatens to delete your data
- And even threatens to publish your private information
…unless you pay the ‘kidnappers’ behind the virus.
Ransomware is where your computer and data are literally held hostage. Hackers infect your computer with a program that encrypts (scrambles) your files; then they make you pay for the software that will allow you to use your files again.
Signs You’ve Been Infected
The number one sign of a ransomware infection is unexpected pop-ups and warning windows – and your inability to close them.
While many types of computer hacks and viruses have pop-ups and warning windows, a ransomware scam has one thing that sets it apart – a demand for money. This, of course, is where this type of malware got its name.
You can be sure you’ve been infected by ransomware if it is impossible to access your files or even get to your desktop. These problems will not simply go away by restarting your computer – and because you can’t get to your files, you will not be able to run an antivirus check. In fact, if you’re infected by true ransomware, it’s already too late for antivirus software.
Here is a screenshot of a typical ransomware pop-up:
Main signs you are being held hostage with ransomware:
- The ransom of course! If there is a demand for money, there is ransomware.
- You are unable to click away from or close the intrusive pop-up or window.
- Rebooting your computer does not help.
Your computer has basically become a big paperweight.
Why Do We Get Ransomware?
Money. Isn’t it almost always money that compels people (often in this case – businesses) to run these scams? Ransomware is big business these days. No longer should you think of hackers as lone operators.
There is huge money to be stolen in a ransomware scam. Usually the ‘kidnapper’ only asks for a few hundred dollars per person. This is because it’s at a low enough price-point that many people will be willing and able to pay. If the scammers asked for too much, people would not be able to pay.
Speaking of money, one tricky way the ransomware scammers steal money is by demanding payment be made in bitcoins. They do this because it keeps their identity secret. They are less likely to be caught.
How to Avoid Being a Victim
Because ransomware is extremely difficult to get rid of, your best bet is to avoid getting infected in the first place.
Some avoidance tips:
- Don’t download free movies, music, desktop backgrounds, games, software or really anything – if it’s free, it’s suspicious.
- Don’t open emails you’re not expecting – your bank or credit card will never send you anything important in an email.
- If you gave in and did open that suspicious email, don’t click on the link and especially don’t download any files.
- In general, just don’t click on random links. Even links in a Facebook or Twitter post can trigger an attack.
- Do not visit illegal websites.
- Keep your software updated. You know those annoying pop-ups that say you need to update your browser or operating system. The ones you keep clicking ‘not now’ or ‘ask later.’ These updates you need often have ransomware protection, so update.
- Use protection: antivirus, firewalls, etc.
- Turn on your pop-up blocker.
- Delete any applications you don’t use.
- Disable macros.
TOP TIP: Back up! Back up! Back up!
Back up online and offline. Back up all your documents, photos, music, homework, finances, etc.
- Back up offline: an external hard drive, a thumb drive, DVDs and more
- Back up online: Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive
For more ideas on how to stay safe online, visit the FTC’s OnGuardOnline webpage – security tips to keep you safe from malware scams.
What to Do If You’re Infected
Get help. Don’t pay (FBI recommendation).
There is a strong chance your files are gone, but if you get help, you can at least find out if there is a chance for recovery. If you do an internet search (on a different computer of course!), you will find many professional services that can help.
If you are tech savvy, you can probably start the recovery process yourself (again, many great resources with an internet search), but most people will not be able or want to take the task on themselves.
Anyone hit by a ransomware scam should file a report via the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Just like kidnapping or blackmail, demanding money in this way is illegal, and the FBI will investigate it.
If you do decide to pay the ransom, keep these thoughts in mind:
- In many cases, you will not be allowed to get your files even after paying.
- There is a strong possibility the scammers will ask for more money before releasing your files.
- Paying could make you an easy target for future attacks since they know you will pay.
According to the FBI:
“The FBI does not support paying a ransom to the adversary. Paying a ransom does not guarantee the victim will regain access to their data; in fact, some individuals or organizations are never provided with decryption keys after paying a ransom.” The FBI goes into detail about ransomware, what it is, how to report it and more here at their ransomware public service announcement.
Be safe. Be smart. Be informed.
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This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.