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The Rise of Ransomware: How to Protect Your Data

With more and more data being accumulated by users every day, protecting it should be on everyone’s priority list. As David Beckham learned recently, a lot of damage can be done if computer hackers steal your data for ransom. We review the risks posed by the trending phenomenon in online security breaches – ransomware.

Ransomware, a form of malware, could access your computer and lock all your devices, blocking your access to all the data you hold dear. The hacker would then offer to lift the lock if you were to pay ransom. And so it goes: many users, when faced with a choice to retrieve their data or lose access to it forever, often cave in, paying hackers whatever they ask.

Ransomware is not a new phenomenon. Experts cite PC Cyborg as the first recorded ransomware trojan, dating back to 1989. Since it’s been around for so long, why is it such a big issue now?

It seems that only recently ransomware authors were able to encrypt large packs of data to make a significant impact. One of the first was CryptoLocker, which was distributed through Gameover ZeuS bonnet and infected internet attachments. CryptoLocker were increasingly more successful at encrypting data and asking users to pay ransom for it. Even the Massachusetts police paid ransom when one of their computers got attacked.

To put it in perspective, CryptoLocker would profit $33,600 in one day by reaching just under 6,000 computers. It affected a little over a million computers before being finally stopped in June 2014.

With its evident success in being able to retrieve so much cash, others followed or worked in parallel: a cyber gang from SpainBKA Trojan variant in Germany, ‘MoneyPak Ransom Virus’ pretending to be FBI in the US, SVpeng in Russia, CoinVault, and more. By 2016, nearly 40% of businesses in different countries were estimated to have experienced a ransomware attack in the past year.

With the dawn of Internet of Things and the ever-growing number of gadgets, your data and various Internet-enabled tools you use daily may be at risk of being held hostage. You may not be able to access your personal information, work files, or even your car or heating system if your PC, laptop or mobile device gets infected with ransomware.

The rise in Bitcoin transactions also increases the popularity of ransomeware, as the leave no paper trail and ransomware creators feel that they won’t be caught.

What can you do to protect yourself from ransomware?

  • Back up important data in an alternate device and keep it unplugged and stored away. Just like your family heirloom, your data should be kept backed up on a portable drive in a safe. Backing up you data often is the best way to protect yourself from ransomware because only unique information is of value.
  • Using a VPN when browsing can protect you against malware that targets online access points. That’s especially relevant when using a public hotspot. Nevertheless, keep in mind that a VPN cannot protect you from downloading malware. While a VPNencrypts your activity online, you should exercise caution when downloading and opening certain files or links. (More in: Going Beyond VPN: what can you do to protect your data)
  • Don’t open anything suspicious. Delete dubious emails from your bank, ISP, credit card company, etc. Malware-infected links may take you to a fake site asking you for personal information. Never click on any attachments you’re not expecting. Never give your personal details if asked via email.
  • Ransomware developers often use pop-up windows that warn you of some kind of malware on your machine. Don’t click on the window — instead, close it with a keyboard command or by clicking on your task bar.

What should you do if infected?

  • The simple answer is nothing. Turn off the infected device and take it to a professional data recovery specialist.
  • Never share data and never make any payments – you’ll never get your money back, you’ll make the scammers richer and your device will remain locked.

Have you or your workplace ever encountered ransomware? Share your experience in the comments below!



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