You have less than a minute before all your files on your computer are gone – documents, pictures, music, movies, favorites, emails, contacts, calendar, downloads, backups… everything! Anything connected to the computer, such as external drives and share folders, will share the same fate. The attack will be swift, precise, and without warning. It will strategically prevent any attempts to circumvent its agenda. As fast as it came it will disappear, leaving a ransom message behind – a ransom note.
This kind of attack is called ransomware. Its purpose is to kidnap digital information on the computer and leave a note behind demanding money. Payment is commonly demanded using Bitcoin, which has potential of keeping the anonymity of the cyber criminals.
Where did the files go? They remain where they were, but encrypted. They remain as unusable and accessible files without a key to access them. The same technology used to protect our sensitive information from others is being used against us. Encryption is a way to achieve data security. It is a mathematical combination of characters, extremely long and complex, representing a lock that protects something. So complex in fact, that it is infeasible with current technologies to break – unless of course a weakness or pattern can be found.
Memories, moments, messages and important documents…all gone. The shock and devastation left behind is hard to image. And the impact of this is wide spread, beyond our personal home computers – its hospitals, schools, small to large businesses, utility companies, and government agencies. To better understand, monetary damages alone in 2015 by a single infection caused more than $325 million in losses. And its escalating. The number of new known ransomware infections have doubled in the last 5-months, and they are becoming more sophisticated.
At the present time anti-ransomware solutions do not exist for consumers, however I heard that Malwarebytes has a beta solution in the works.
So how can you protect yourself? Take a proactive approach and create backups of all your data and store it safely away from your computer. This will become your fail safe if you become a victim. Secondly, create a system image of your computer, to restore the system if necessary. I recommend recreating these images regularly to keep up with installed programs and customized changes you may have added since the last time. Lastly, look into a web protection solution capable of identifying and blocking known threats to and from your computer. This will minimize risks by increasing communications security within and from your computer.
A couple more thoughts:
- These malware infections come from clickable links. Be cautious, as their appearance may be deceptive. If in doubt, don’t do it.
- Connect with websites that offer a secure connection., avoid unsecure websites.
- Paying the ransom is not advisable. Thousands of dollars can easily be taken from you, with no guaranty.
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