The web has produced many threats to our personal information. Fake Nigerian princes email thousands of people every day, hoping someone will respond and eventually send them money, for instance. But that scam is easier to spot than some other ways that have been invented to steal information and identities, such as ransomware.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk (and media coverage) about ransomware; it is a serious threat to your data, and one CBC has dubbed an “epidemic,” though there are some things you can do to arm yourself against it.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a malicious program that infects a target computer, or other device such as a smartphone, and locks down files by encrypting them so that they can’t be accessed by anyone without an unlock code. The cybercriminals sending these programs out target anything they can, such as sensitive tax information, family photographs, slide presentations, work documents or anything else that someone may pay to recover.
When the owner tries to open a file that’s been infected, a demand for money appears. Literally, the files are held ransom.
Often, payment in Bitcoin is required to unlock the files and since Bitcoin is an untraceable currency, it is making it much easier for criminals to get away with this crime.
It’s not just individuals who are targeted, either. The City of Detroit had its files held ransom for $800,000 (which it refused to pay), and in British Columbia, last year, three law firms had it happen around the same time (and one did end up paying a large sum to retrieve its files). Hospitals and government agencies are facing increasing attempts by cybercriminals to access their data, too. All people and businesses are at risk.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Ransomware?
Since ransomware usually has to be let into the system somehow, always be careful when clicking links sent in emails. Most ransomware still requires a person to click something, although recent CBC articles indicate that self-propagating ransomware, or “cryptoworms,” are quite likely to attack in future. These could spread without human interaction, much like computer worm viruses already do.
There are also “drive-by download” attacks, where a website visitor does nothing except visit a website that’s been compromised and malware gets downloaded to your computer, as happened in March to visitors to an Ontario hospital website. This type of attack is harder to predict so harder to avoid.
It should go without saying, but never trust those phone calls from persons claiming to work for Microsoft or other companies, who say there’s something wrong with your computer and they can help you fix it. Those calls are a scam too, with criminals simply looking for access, and needing you to let them into your system.
Always do the recommended updates to your computer software and your website, if you run one. Often, these are security updates and are needed to “plug holes” where hackers have discovered they can get in.
Run a security program on your computer so that you have access to antivirus updates too.
Most importantly, always back up your computer and all files on an external hard drive and unplug it from your computer when it’s not backing up files. If it’s left connected, it too can be infected with ransomware should your computer fall victim, so remember to disconnect.
Since ransomware criminals are difficult to trace, the best defense is prevention. Protect your data. Call us at 613.795.7755 if you need help.