Internet thieves have devised yet another creative way to extort money from innocent people. By preying on unsuspecting users, hackers will hold the files on your computer for ransom and demand payment in order to undo the headaches they've caused.
This method of extorting money from you is called ransomware.
Ransomware is malicious software installed on a computer, or other electronic device. Once the ransomware is installed, the entire contents of your disk drive are encrypted.
The process of encrypting the contents of your hard drive means that you will no longer be able to access the documents on your computer.
After the contents of the hard drive are encrypted by this software, it is virtually impossible to decrypt the contents without using the same software that was used to do the encryption.
After all, that is the point of encryption - to secure information from being accessed by anyone you don't want to have it.
It's unfortunate that this technology, which is meant to be protective, is being exploited in this manner.
If you happen to have an external hard drive connected via a USB port, you're probably going to lose access to all of that content too. It'll all be encrypted as well.
Here's the scary thing...
Installing this ransomware on a computer that's connected to a network, like the ones small businesses rely on, can multiply your problems exponentially.
When networked computers are infected with ransomware, network drives are also subject to the same exploit as your computer.
Can you imagine losing access to business critical documents? Documents you've invested hundreds of employee-hours working on? What about losing access to the presentation your team (and you!) have been laboring over for weeks?
The threat of malicious software encrypting your documents, contracts, and digital assets is a very real concern. In recent months 17 St. Louis area Libraries and three Southern California hospitals have fallen victim to such exploits.
Knowledge, as they say, is power.
Let's give you a little more power.
As is typical in these situations, the problem starts with the unsuspecting user opening an infected file. Typically an email is sent with an attachment, and a message urging you to open immediately.
Here's one such example:
The above email was sent to me from a total stranger.
In opening the file, your computer would instantly be compromised.
Your first line of defense is you!
Never open unsolicited email attachments. Especially if you don't know the sender.
Malwarebytes.com elaborates on some other variations of ransomware attacks. They highly recommend that you:
If you've got a small team working for you, you might want to consider alternatives to email communication, such as Slack.
"Slack brings all the pieces and people you need together so you can actually get things done."
When practical, you may also consider sharing documents using cloud based tools.
With Google Docs, you can write, edit, and collaborate wherever you are. For free.
The new Office takes the work out of working together