Business Consultants & Certified Public Accountants

Ransomware: Could Your Data Be Held Hostage?

If you are browsing the web precariously, opening mysterious emails, or downloading suspicious files, you might pay the price…literally.

Ransomware is a malicious type of software that once loaded on your computer, encrypts your data and holds it hostage until the ransom fee is paid. It’s quite simple, really. You sit down at your computer with your morning coffee and see an email which appears legitimate, asking you to download a .zip file or even a simple document. Of course, the situation can vary. The sender could be claiming to provide UPS or FedEx information regarding an important delivery or a bank or credit union sending you a routine financial statement.

Once the file is downloaded to your computer and opened, the infection has already started and it displays no immediate evidence. Behind the scenes, the ransomware encrypting all of your applications, files, and even system files which can disable certain functionality of your operating system. You won’t find out that your system has been infected until you see the infamous ransom note demanding a non-negotiable payment in the form of bitcoin with a countdown of the time remaining to pay up or your data will be encrypted for good.

You might think that they are bluffing, but do you really want to wait to find out?

Before you hand over a large sum to the cybercriminals, paying the pricey ransom isn’t your only option. I recommend talking to your IT department or an IT professional before performing any actions when you know you are infected. One option is to reformat your hard drive and restore from a backup that was created before your computer had become infected; that is, if you created a backup. If not, unfortunately your options are even more limited.

First seen in 2013, this malicious software has become quite popular to virus programmers because of the potential income. In the news, Ransomware has begun spreading to large businesses, causing havoc and a crippling amount of downtime. Similar ransomware has been created under different names such as Locky, CryptoWall, CryptoDefense, TorrentLocker, TeslaCrypt, VaultCrypt, VirLock, and KeRanger.

Of course, you should not have to use your computer in fear that you may be prone to these infections. There are many preventative actions that can be taken to decrease the chances of encountering ransomware. Most importantly, ensure that you have both an anti-virus program and anti-malware program that have real-time detection which can quarantine the malicious software so that it doesn’t implant itself on your computer. Also, viruses and malware have been known to target out of date browser plug-ins. Be sure to keep your plug-ins up to date and uninstall plug-ins you are no longer using. The most common practice that can protect you is to be smart and cautious when browsing unknown websites or viewing suspicious emails. Don’t open an email from a sender you do not trust and be sure to run a malware scan on any attachment you download. When browsing the web, refrain from clicking and advertisement that are found on the page. These simple methods can absolutely help prevent infection, however, no one is completely immune to an attack. Be sure to backup all of your data on an external device daily. This will limit the amount of data you may lose in case you are forced to reformat your hard drive.

New malicious software programs are written and released every day. You can help prevent them from spreading by being prepared and taking the right action against them.

If you ever encounter suspicious activity on your computer or have any questions about how to protect yourself from ransomware or malware, feel free to contact the PBGW IT Department.

If you are browsing the web precariously, opening mysterious emails, or downloading suspicious files, you might pay the price…literally.
Ransomware is a malicious type of software that once loaded on your computer, encrypts your data and holds it hostage until the ransom fee is paid. It’s quite simple, really. You sit down at your computer with your morning coffee and see an email which appears legitimate, asking you to download a .zip file or even a simple document. Of course, the situation can vary. The sender could be claiming to provide UPS or FedEx information regarding an important delivery or a bank or credit union sending you a routine financial statement.

Once the file is downloaded to your computer and opened, the infection has already started and it displays no immediate evidence. Behind the scenes, the ransomware encrypting all of your applications, files, and even system files which can disable certain functionality of your operating system. You won’t find out that your system has been infected until you see the infamous ransom note demanding a non-negotiable payment in the form of bitcoin with a countdown of the time remaining to pay up or your data will be encrypted for good.

You might think that they are bluffing, but do you really want to wait to find out?

Before you hand over a large sum to the cybercriminals, paying the pricey ransom isn’t your only option. I recommend talking to your IT department or an IT professional before performing any actions when you know you are infected. One option is to reformat your hard drive and restore from a backup that was created before your computer had become infected; that is, if you created a backup. If not, unfortunately your options are even more limited.

First seen in 2013, this malicious software has become quite popular to virus programmers because of the potential income. In the news, Ransomware has begun spreading to large businesses, causing havoc and a crippling amount of downtime. Similar ransomware has been created under different names such as Locky, CryptoWall, CryptoDefense, TorrentLocker, TeslaCrypt, VaultCrypt, VirLock, and KeRanger.

Of course, you should not have to use your computer in fear that you may be prone to these infections. There are many preventative actions that can be taken to decrease the chances of encountering ransomware. Most importantly, ensure that you have both an anti-virus program and anti-malware program that have real-time detection which can quarantine the malicious software so that it doesn’t implant itself on your computer. Also, viruses and malware have been known to target out of date browser plug-ins. Be sure to keep your plug-ins up to date and uninstall plug-ins you are no longer using. The most common practice that can protect you is to be smart and cautious when browsing unknown websites or viewing suspicious emails. Don’t open an email from a sender you do not trust and be sure to run a malware scan on any attachment you download. When browsing the web, refrain from clicking and advertisement that are found on the page. These simple methods can absolutely help prevent infection, however, no one is completely immune to an attack. Be sure to backup all of your data on an external device daily. This will limit the amount of data you may lose in case you are forced to reformat your hard drive.

New malicious software programs are written and released every day. You can help prevent them from spreading by being prepared and taking the right action against them.

If you ever encounter suspicious activity on your computer or have any questions about how to protect yourself from ransomware or malware, feel free to contact the PBGW IT Department.

— Dylan Geisinger
IT Specialist