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What is Ransomware and Why Should You Be Cautious?

Although this article goes into detail about what ransomware is and how it can be identified and prevented, it is important to point out that there are numerous benefits to contacting a private investigator for education, prevention, or to assess a potential threat. Private investigators have decades of experience dealing with modern threats and the most trusted ones will fight for you and the best interest of loved ones.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a malicious and dangerous software that locks your screen or scrambles a user’s computer and/or their files. This is often initiated by hackers in order to steal sensitive data (e.g., important financial data) and to threaten the user into surrendering valuable information. One single occurrence of ransomware on a user’s device could lead to the takeover of an entire network of computers, external hard drives and web servers.

Unlike other common viruses that corrupt your system and/or your files, ransomware steals your files, including everything from confidential customer information to financial records to family photos, and demands an anonymous ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key. An online hacker will target anyone from large companies, to small businesses, hospitals, universities and individuals. They can target computer devices, file servers, tablets, external hard drives and smartphones. Bottom line is: if you can connect to the internet, you can be taken over by ransomware.

One single occurrence of ransomware can bring a business to a grinding halt. If a police force or a hospital were to be affected by ransomware, they could be forced to shut down their computer systems entirely, requiring them to turn people away or work without the important knowledge they once had. 

How can you recognize ransomware? 

Ransomware is often delivered through harmful email attachments, text messages, websites, or outdated browser plug-ins. Once files are encrypted, instructions may appear on your computer or your device demanding a large payment in exchange for the decryption key to unlock them. This demand may appear on your desktop or on a web page browser as a text document or a graphic. 

You will recognize that you have become the victim of ransomware if you suddenly cannot open files, have errors appearing telling you the file is corrupt or cannot be found, have new and unfamiliar files appear on your system, or if you see a payment countdown window/program with ransom demand instructions. 

How can you prevent ransomware? 

Prevention is the best strategy to avoid being the victim of ransomware. Prevention includes understanding common infection methods. For example, email is the most common method that a hacker will use to spread ransomware, more specifically, through email spam and attachments. A cyber criminal may send out a mass email with a malicious attachment disguised as a PDF, ZIP file or “invoice”. Once opened, the user’s system is vulnerable to ransomware attacks. The hacker may use sophisticated techniques such as using the target’s name and other familiar details to make them look more legitimate and to fool the user into opening the malicious attachment.

You can protect yourself from ransomware by staying vigilant when opening email (i.e. verifying sender authenticity, double-checking email content and attachments) and by staying vigilant while browsing the internet (i.e. disabling pop-up windows and plug-ins). Keep your important software, including antivirus software, up to date. Backup your files as often as possible on your computer, tablet and smartphone. If your device becomes infected with this malware, these backups will be useful in restoring your system and your data.

Ransomware can also strike you while you are surfing the internet or using free or pirated software (i.e. free games, pirated versions of popular software, game modifications and free screensavers). Ransomware can come from advertisements, videos, pop-up windows, browser plug-ins and can be downloaded through links on social media networks and adult websites.

What do you do if you become a victim of ransomware?

If you become the victim of ransomware, do not panic! If it occurs at work, contact your company’s IT group or security team. If it occurs at work OR at home, immediately disconnect from any network, disconnect from power sources, turn off devices and contact a help desk or law enforcement for help.

It is also recommended that you contact a private investigator if you need help out of a sticky situation. Your private investigator will be full of tips and tricks to malware-proof your devices and networks from malicious ransomware and ensure you do not find yourself in this tricky and dangerous situation.