How to deal with the growing threat of ransomware

Although ransomware is not particularly new, there does seem to be a huge surge in computers and networks being targeted by ransomware attacks. Some researchers have reported a 3,500% increase in the criminal use of such scams affecting multi-national businesses, small businesses, hospitals and even government organisations. It is now one of the largest threats to computer and network security around the world.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware which without the users knowledge or consent, installs itself on a computer or network of computers. It is often unwittingly installed by opening email attachments.

The malware then encrypts all the data being held on the network before notifying the user by freezing the system and displaying a ransom letter of one form or another. Sometimes the message purports to be an official message from the FBI or an other law enforcement agency identifying you as having accessed indecent or illegal online materials. Other times, the message will simply say something along the lines of- ‘your data has been encrypted. The only way to retrieve your data is with a key’.

Whatever the message, the crux of the concept will be the same – it will need payment (usually in Bitcoin) for a “key” to retrieve your data. The price of the key will often increase exponentially with time to give you a false incentive to pay up quickly.

What to do if you encounter ransomware

As ugly as hijacking other people’s computers and information is, the sad truth is that in most cases where a victim has paid up for their “key” to retrieve their data, no “key” has surfaced. If it does there is no guarantee that the data will ever be recovered. Once the scammers have received their payment, their incentive to have anything further with you evaporates.

The first two things you should do is turn off your computer and disconnect it from the internet and any networks (it could infect other computers) and contact the police. Once you have done those things either attempt to carry out a system restore or contact a specialist.

Things to do to avoid falling victim of ransomware

• Have strong anti-virus software
• Enable operating systems and browser patches and updates
• Use strong and unique passwords
• Use a browser pop-up blocker
• Only download files and software from trusted sites
• Use spam filtering for your emails
• If at work, send any suspicious email to IT support
• Back up your system for future data recovery and store the data offline and/ or use cloud computing.