Everyone has seen a movie or TV show where a criminal kidnaps a victim and demands a ransom in exchange for their release. What some people do not realize, however, is that demanding a ransom is not just confined to kidnappings. Today, many criminals employ ransomware, a form of malware or computer virus that locks a user’s keyboard or computer and holds their data ‘hostage’ until the victim pays a ransom in exchange for restoring access to it.
Recently, computer criminals used ransomware to conduct the largest cyberattack in history. More than 200,000 Windows operating systems in more than 150 countries—including the United States, England, Germany, and Japan—were infected with the ransomware strain WannaCry or WanaCrypt0r2.0. Victims had the data on their computers encrypted or scrambled, effectively locking them out of it while demanding they pay a ransom of between $300 and $600. The attack was not limited to personal PCs—WannCry victims included hospitals, banks, and government agencies.
So, how does ransomware work? Well, just like in the movies, someone takes something you own and holds it hostage until you send them the money they demand in return. The individual requesting the ransom infects your computer with a virus, usually by sending an email that requests the user to click on a link. Once the virus infects the system, the hacker can lock down the computer’s files and extort the user until he or she is paid the money.
While this may seem like a relatively simple issue to resolve, the problem lies in the information that is being held hostage. Few organizations can operate without their data, and if one doesn’t have this data backed up, the impact of a ransomware attack can be crippling. In addition, the FBI, Department of Justice, and many technology firms suggest you don’t pay the ransom. Doing so does not guarantee you’ll regain access to your data, and since you’ve already been exposed to the virus and shown a willingness to pay the ransom, you’re vulnerable to be re-targeted again in the future.
How can you protect yourself against ransomware? To help prevent these kinds of attacks, there are a few steps you can take to mitigate risk. First, regularly install Microsoft security patches and system updates, frequently backup your files, secure your router, and—perhaps most important of all—don’t open suspicious emails. If it’s too late and a virus has already taken over your system, the most crucial step is disconnecting from the Internet to prevent the virus from spreading. Then, you should report the attack to authorities and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Finally, wipe your PC and restore your data and files from backups.
Big risks can sometimes yield big rewards, but not when it comes to cybersecurity. Be sure your organization is doing all it can to protect itself from ransomware and other cyberattacks. Contact Infomax Office Systems today to learn how our on-site Managed IT services can help give you peace of mind from ransomware attacks.