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Identifying and Preventing Ransomware

ransomware literal

By: , CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service company.

Even the most savvy of internet users might have trouble defining what exactly ransomware is. Ransomware is very similar to malware in the sense that it gets onto your computer like a virus. Once there is ransomware on your system, the parasitic code encrypts your files, making them inaccessible to you. In order to regain control of your data, you must purchase the decryption key from the criminal who infected your system in the first place. These criminals usually force victims to pay with bitcoins, an untraceable online currency. If you are curious, the cost of getting your data back after a ransomware attack averages around $500, but there have been cases in which victims pay much, much more.

Earlier in February, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was extorted for $17,000 after their data was locked during a ransomware attack. During the time the system was encrypted, hospital workers were locked out of certain computers that were necessary for day to day tasks, and electronic communications systems were disabled, forcing the medical center’s communication flow to suffer greatly. Even in such a large scale ransomware attack, the FBI stated that if you need your data back from the criminals, the only way to get it is by paying the ransom.

Ransomware is becoming more and more common, and attacks are on the rise. McAfee Lab researchers saw more than 4 million incidents of ransomware in the 2nd quarter of 2015 alone. With the recent boom in virtual payment methods, criminals are able to extort payments through new mediums while still remaining anonymous. For online criminals, the ransomware business is quite lucrative.

The most common means of your computer being infected with ransomware is through malicious email attachments; although drive-by downloads from compromised websites is also a leading cause. The vast majority of websites that are infected are sites with adult content. With the ability to spoof links, criminals can make a link seem like it leads to a legitimate site, but it could lead you somewhere that is infected. Adobe Flash Player is the lead tool for spreading infections because the program is used to auto-play videos and graphics on popular websites. Criminals exploit vulnerabilities in Flash Player and make it so that once the site is visited, the script runs automatically and the infectious content begins to be written.

Criminals demand payment to decrypt your data

To avoid falling victim to any ransomware demands, be sure to maintain an up-to-date, reliable data backup. Ideally, you should have a backup on your hard drive, as well as an off-site back up ready to go in cloud storage. If you make sure to set automatic backups, and that the software you use includes a versioning option so that you can maintain historical data points, you only need to wipe your hard drive and restore a backup from before your device was infected. A few simple steps can really make all the difference in avoiding or recovering from a ransomware attack.

If you are hoping to reduce the likelihood that you will get infected with ransomware, there are a handful of precautionary measures you can take. Obviously, avoid opening suspicious attachments or clicking links from an unsolicited email or social media posting. Be sure you keep your Malware detection software up-to-date as well as your operating system, web browsers, and Adobe Flash Player to avoid any vulnerabilities. It also helps to disable the auto-play feature of Flash in your web browser so that you will be prompted before Flash Player runs on any page. For a good lesson on how to disable auto-play, check out How to Geek’s tutorial.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service company for consumers and businesses. Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns: Computer Nerds On Call, a nationally syndicated column for Scripps-Howard News Service, and Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She regularly appears on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The CW, and CNN on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, Good Morning Arizona, and Good Day Portland, offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle, and gadgets. Andrea recently has begun working with Demand Media to produce content for eHow.com and has written a book for them: Smartphone 101: Integrating Your iPhone Into a Windows World. Andrea is available for Q & A’s, expert tech quotes and will appear on your show. Call today! See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.

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