Online security threats are here to stay as savvy cybercriminals create new and ingenious ways to takeover everything from personal home computers and smartphone to entire corporations' networks. The latest? Ransomware attacks.
This scheme entices users to unknowingly download malicious software that lets the hacker take control of their entire system by encrypting the data or locking your screen. In order to regain control, the user must pay a ransom—usually via untraceable Bitcoin and within a limited amount of time—or the data is lost forever.
Paying the price
The FBI warns that giving in to a cybercriminal's demands only perpetuates the existence of these types of data security threats, especially when they're as lucrative as ransomware has been. In 2016, cybercriminals made nearly $1 billion from this malicious software, mainly through threats to larger corporations and even small to mid-size businesses.
But consumers were not immune, and these criminals know it. A recent IBM survey showed about half of participants would be willing to pay to get back financial information. And parents, in particular, showed susceptibility because they're more motivated to pay for revived access to their digital photos, videos, and gaming systems.
If you're a victim:
- Immediately disconnect your device from the internet and any other linked devices.
- Try to avoid paying. You may not get your files restored even if you do pay, and you could easily become a victim again. It's ultimately your choice, and refusing to pay may mean a total loss of your data if it's not backed up. If you can live with that, then don't pay.
- Research. If there's no name for the ransomware, it could be a bluff. Try to find any information you can before you pay.
- Remove the ransomware from your device either by rebooting your system yourself in safe mode (be sure to follow the instructions from your operating system) or bringing it to an IT professional.
- Contact law enforcement. Cybercriminals are just that: criminals. They can and should be reported. You can start with your local law enforcement agency, or head to your closest FBI office. Give them as much information as you can. This won't likely help your individual situation, but it could help them nab the criminal eventually.
Steps to prevent ransomware:
Your best defense is to be proactive about securing your information before something happens.
- Pay close attention to your emails: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are 5 clues to help you spot a fake email.
- Here are 5 clues to help you spot a fake email.
- Be cautious about the websites you visit: avoid downloading software or clicking on links unless you absolutely trust the site.
- Backup your data often: subscribe to a cloud service and ensure your digital memories and important personal files are securely updated on a regular basis.
- Update your device regularly: maintain regular software updates on all your devices including operating systems and apps. Use anti-virus software for your computer/laptop as well as your smartphone and keep it up-to-date.