Hostage crimes have gone digital. A well-known form of malware, ransomware is a cybercrime in which the perpetrator holds a computer’s data for ransom via encryption. If the data owner doesn’t pay the cybercriminal a certain amount of money within a certain amount of time, his or her data will be lost forever.
According to a recent global cybersecurity report, ransomware is the fastest growing cybercrime, with more than 6,000 online criminal marketplaces and ransomware-as-a-service gaining in popularity.
The good news is there are ways to prevent falling victim to ransomware. Here are three of the most critical:
- Keep your operating system and security software up to date. New ransomware variants appear on a regular basis to take advantage of newly discovered security vulnerabilities. Software updates will frequently include patches for vulnerabilities that could be exploited by ransomware attackers. Don’t wait – the sooner the vulnerability is patched, the less time the hackers have to exploit it.
- Think before you click. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 91 percent of ransomware attacks are downloaded through phishing emails. You also can get ransomware by visiting a compromised website, clicking a malicious online ad or downloading an infected app. For tips on avoiding falling victim to a phishing scam, read our most recent blog post.
- Back up important data. Attackers gain leverage over their victims by encrypting valuable files and rendering them inaccessible. Victims who have backup copies can restore their files once the infection has been cleaned up. From tax forms to family photos, make it part of your routine to regularly back up files stored on your computers and mobile devices. When you’re done, unplug external hard drives so hackers can’t encrypt and lock your back-ups, too.
What if my computer is infected with ransomware?
- Disconnect all devices from the Internet to prevent spreading the ransomware.
- Contact law enforcement at the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Be sure to share any contact or identifying information of the criminal, such as their email address.
- Restore your device(s). Ensure your device is cleaned by a professional service.