Locked Laptop Small

Holding Data Hostage

Locky. And before that, CryptoLocker. And before that, Cryptowall. These are all ransomware campaigns that have made big news in recent years.

Ransomware holds your computer – or your files – or your mobile device – for ransom. It can prevent you from accessing your operating system, like Windows. It can encrypt files so you can’t read them. It can stop your web browser from running.

To free up your captive data, the cybercriminals extort money or information. Typical ransom amounts range from $300 to $500, most times requiring payment in bitcoins. Symantec has estimated that at least $5 million is extorted from ransomware victims each year. Ransomware has become big business for organized crime, and even looks like a business, with customer support call centers.

Think it won’t happen to you? Tell that to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, whose system was hacked, leaving employees unable to access patient files until a 40 bitcoin ransom was paid. Or the Los Angeles County Department of Health. Or the estimated 6,500 Apple devices infected in a day and a half through a recent ransomware attack that required victims to pay one bitcoin (approximately $410) in order to unlock their devices.

Here are ways to help protect yourself from becoming a victim of ransomware:

  1. Backup, backup, backup. Back up your computer and your network as frequently as possible. If your files were locked right this minute, could your business continue to operate? It would be more likely if you had a backup from last night than from last month . . . or last year, right?
  2. Keep your antivirus program up to date.
  3. Load updates as soon as they’re released for your operating system and software applications. These frequently close security gaps and weak spots. And if you’re still running a PC with Windows XP, stop immediately!
  4. Don’t click on links or attachments in any emails until you are absolutely, positively sure that the email is legitimate:
    • Is it from a trusted source?
    • Does the language in the email make sense?
    • Are there other people who also received the email, and do they make sense in context of the message?
  5. Don’t click on popup ads. Not even if they say your computer is infected and to click here to protect your machine. Not even then. Really.
  6. Stay away from websites that offer free software, music or movies. Stay away from offers that sound too good to be true. And stay away from porn sites. Cybercriminals prey on people with guilty consciences, and some ransomware pretends to originate from law enforcement.
  7. Educate your employees. In cybersecurity, people are the weakest link, and all it takes is one employee who clicks on a link or opens an attachment.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact us.  We can help you protect your computer and files from would-be cyber criminals.