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What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents a victim from accessing their computer system until a ransom is paid. The malware announces its presence usually with a pop-up message that states your computer will remain locked until you pay a fee. Some ransomware announces that your files have been encrypted and a decryption key will be provided when you pay the ransom. The victim is provided with a specific currency type (pre-paid cards and Bitcoin are popular) and where funds should be sent. Ransom demands can run from $200-$5,000.

A growing problem is ransomware that locks down mobile phones and demands payments to unlock them.

We've compiled the following information to inform you of this growing threat and provide solutions you can begin employing right now. 

Where does ransomware come from?

Ransomware is malicious code that can be downloaded to your computer from infected websites (including pop-ups) and links in emails. There has been a definite uptick in ransomware attacks. Ransomware attacks grew 113 percent in 2014; in just six months, CryptoWall ransomware infected over 600,000 computer systems and held 5 billion files hostage, earning its creators more than $1 million.

Impact

A ransomeware attack can have a number of consequences including:

  • Temporary or permanent loss of sensitive or proprietary information
  • Disruption to regular operations
  • Financial losses incurred to restore systems and files
  • Potential harm to an organization's reputation

Paying the ransom does not guarantee the encrypted files will be released; it only guarantees that the malicious actors receive the victim's money, and in some cases, their banking information. In addition, decrypting files does not mean the malware infection itself has been removed.

Solutions

Infections can be devastating and recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist.

To prevent the loss of essential files due to a ransomware infection, it's recommended that individuals and businesses conduct regular system back-ups and store the backed-up data offline and on a separate device. It is also prudent to test the system restore function of your backup service since it may be necessary to restore the entire system whether or not ransom is paid.

Your ransomware protection rundown includes:

  1. Make sure you have updated antivirus software on your computer.
  2. Enable automated patches for your operating system and web browser.
  3. Have strong passwords, and don't use the same passwords for everything.
  4. Use a pop-up blocker.
  5. Only download software—especially free software—from sites you know and trust (malware can also come in downloadable games, file-sharing programs, and customized toolbars).
  6. Do not follow unsolicited web links in email.
  7. Don't open attachments in unsolicited e-mails, even if they come from people in your contact list, and never click on a URL contained in an unsolicited e-mail, even if you think it looks safe. Instead, close out the e-mail and go to the organization's website directly.
  8. Use the same precautions on your mobile phone as you would on your computer when using the Internet.

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