Ransomware attacks have exploded globally – from Australia to the US to right here in North Alabama. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware attacks is the most common form of malware today, with attacks predicted to happen every 11 seconds this year. To date, companies that have been hit by a ransomware attack have paid from $5000 to $40 million to recover their data.
To combat this ever-growing threat, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Homeland Security have teamed up to provide businesses and consumers with a new website and tools to help avoid and counter the ransomware threat – StopRansomware.gov.
Here’s How a Ransomware Scam Works
Ransomware is a virus that freezes your computer, holding it ransom until you pay to unlock it. Victims typically click on an infected advertisement, link or email attachment. Suddenly, a pop up appears. The screen tells you that all the files on your computer have been encrypted, making them useless unless you have a key to decode them.
Of course, decoding your files doesn’t come free. Retrieving your data can cost thousands to millions of dollars. Most versions of this scam demand payment in Bitcoin. The online currency is decentralized and anonymous, making it a new favorite method of payment for scammers. Like pre-paid debit cards and wire transfers, if you pay with Bitcoin, it’s like paying in cash.
But there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from ransomware attacks in addition to the new government resources.
To help protect your computer from malicious pop-ups or fraudulent apps that can make you vulnerable to ransomware, consider the following:
- Practice safe searching. Don’t click on any links or call numbers listed in pop-ups, no matter how dire the message.
- Stick with legitimate, mainstream app vendors. Do not download any apps without first researching their source, even in trusted sites. They may contain viruses, malware or spyware that can compromise your personal data.
- Update your operating system. Those alerts on your computer or smart phone that tell you to update your apps and operating system are more than just an annoyance. These updates close security loopholes and other back doors hackers can use to access your phone without your knowledge.
- Be wary of public Wi-Fi. If you choose to connect to an unsecured or public Wi-Fi network, do not enter any passwords or access any personal data. Bad guys can use such networks as an easy means to hack your device.
- Use Bluetooth sparingly. Bluetooth creates a wireless connection between your phone, computer and other devices. With Bluetooth enabled, if one device is compromised all other connected devices are at risk as well. If you are not actively using an enabled device, such as a headset, make sure your Bluetooth is turned off.
- Check your permissions. Check all of your apps to see what data they are accessing and revoke permissions for information those apps don’t need to properly operate. Check your computer or phone’s owner’s manual or contact your wireless provider for directions on how to do so.
- Back up your data. Make sure you have a backup of all the apps and information — especially important photos or other irreplaceable items — stored on your device in case it’s lost, stolen, hacked or damaged.
- Keep anti-virus and anti-malware enabled and up to date. There are many resources for antivirus or other security apps for your devices. Research them thoroughly before choosing which is right for you.
Source: BBB North Alabama, McAfee.com, and Cybersecurity Ventures, U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Homeland Security.