Remember back when you’d actually eject a USB stick instead of yanking it out and tossing it across the desk? We were wary of viruses then too, scanning everything, refusing to open attachments, not even trusting a friendly eCard link.

Something changed. We stopped paying attention.

Viruses changed too. Hackers knew we were onto them, so they put on their naughty little thinking caps and came up with a way to use our complacency against us.

Assuming you don’t live under a rock (….and there are some of us out there that do) turn on the news for five minutes, and the latest buzzword is RANSOMWARE.

As the name suggests, hackers have basically become data kidnappers.

Files and photos held for ransom

The hackers (thick glasses wearing, long haired creatures with high speed internet) infect your computer with a virus. It activates automatically and before you know it, all your files are encrypted and locked away from you.

Press all the keys you like. Reboot as much as you like. They’ve made their move and now all you can do is wait for the ransom demand.

A pop-up appears advising you to pay money immediately or you’ll never see your files alive again. It could be as little as $10 (average $300) and is generally through BitCoin — an anonymous, untraceable and bizarrely intangible nerd currency that converts to actual money.

There is no possibility of decrypting the files yourself. None. You’re screwed. Not even an expert can get your files back.

Even the FBI suggests you pay the ransom because there’s no way around it.

In 2014/15, one virus netted hackers an amazing $18 million from just 992 US victims. Imagine how many more millions was extorted from victims who didn’t report it.

Arm yourself

The best protection is knowledge. If you know their game, you can flip the board over and walk away, sending their little pieces flying in dramatic slow motion.

Know these 4 facts:

  1. Your antivirus may not protect you. Hackers are updating faster than you are. Rely on your intelligence and common sense first.
  2. You didn’t win a free iPad/cruise/car/millions…if you did, it’s unlikely you’d be informed via a flashing pop-up while you’re browsing for whatever it is you clear out of your history before your spouse sees it. Use your big brain and leave the pop-ups alone.
  3. Game of Thrones is very cool. That’s just truth. But it’s also the most illegally downloaded torrent/media file of all time. Hackers know this and like to hide their code inside all manner of torrent and illegal download files. Click play on your latest acquisition and you may find yourself experiencing Winter for real.
  4. Email attachments and links are still risky. Yes, even from your mother. Unless you know exactly what the file is and trust the person sending it, don’t click it. If the post office don’t normally email you to advise parcels are waiting, it’s a trap. If speeding tickets don’t usually arrive via email, it’s a trap. Common sense and a healthy state of distrust are your new best friends.

Protect yourself from ransomware

  • Backup your files regularly onto a portable hard drive or even a CD or DVD.
  • Consider backup software to automate the process.
  • If you’re backing up to a portable drive or USB stick, unplug it when you’re done and put it somewhere safe. It can’t save you if you let it get infected too.
  • Install, update and actually run Anti-Virus.
  • Set Windows/Mac to auto update.
  • Stay away from dodgy websites.
  • If you absolutely must visit porn and gambling websites, just because something pops up, doesn’t mean you need to touch it.

Too late! They’re in

Stay calm. Think.

First, unplug the internet. That’s it, nice and slow.

Do you have a backup? We techy geeks recommend formatting your PC or MAC before restoring it but it’s not absolutely necessary — just wise.

If you were able to get your files from a backup, all is good. Run a system wide scan to make sure.

If you don’t have a backup, consider whether you really need those ransomed files. Are they worth your hard earned dollars?

Finally, pay if you must. Have stern words with everyone in your network.

The dreaded Ransomware Screen of Doom!!

Key takeaways:

  1. Ransomware is when a virus encrypts your files and you can’t have them back unless you pay a ransom.
  2. Once infected, you either pay or restore from backup.
  3. Avoid it with common sense, online safety knowledge, backups and antivirus.

When was your last backup? Uh oh…

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