Digital Hostage: The Ransomware Threat (And What You Can Do About It)


We live in a world that is more connected than ever, but with those connections come new challenges to your personal information. Ransomware and malware are the scary side of the internet, and it is more important than ever to keep your valuable data safe. Here are some common-sense security tips that will help you stay one step ahead of the bad guys–

What is ransomware?

  • We store important personal information on our computers– from family pictures to business records to everything in between. To take advantage of this, cyber criminals use a form of malware called ransomware.
  • Ransomware is malicious software that seeks out personal information on a computer– documents, pictures, movies, music, and other files– and encrypts them, scrambling them so that they can no longer be opened.
  • Once the information is encrypted, the criminals display a message on the computer demanding that the victim pay them some amount of money, usually via the untraceable online currency Bitcoin. Amounts can be from $200 to $20,000 or more. If the victim does not pay the ransom within a set amount of time, the criminals may increase the ransom or delete the encryption key so that the files cannot be recovered. Some ransomware even threatens to post sensitive information from the victim’s files on the internet if the ransom demands are not met.

How can I protect my computer?

  • Maintain a backup of all files on a device that is not permanently connected to the computer. If you copy your files to a USB flash drive or hard drive that remains plugged into the computer, those files may be encrypted at the same time your computer is attacked.
  • Avoid suspicious emails, links, and attachments. The most common method of infecting victims with ransomware involves the tried and true method of sending spam and waiting for people to click on the links. Use smart email skills:

    • Examine the email carefully before clicking on any links or downloads
    • Make sure you know who the email is from (look at the complete email address) and where the link will take you (hover over the link and see where it goes).
    • Don’t download and open attachments from people you don’t know.
    • If you are not sure if an email is legitimate even though it is from a known sender, call or email the sender to make sure they actually sent you something before opening any attachments.

  • Keep your operating systems, web browsers, and other software up to date.

    • The Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems are no longer safe to use online.
    • Other operating systems– such as Windows 7, 8, and 10– should use the latest service pack.
    • Keep web browers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Edge), plugins (Flash and Java) and other applications (such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat Reader) updated to avoid vulnerabilities in older software.

  • Install an up-to-date antivirus program on your computer and make sure you know how to update it and use it to scan your computer.

What do I do if I am infected?

  • If you think you might have clicked on ransomware, turn off your computer immediately and do not turn it back on. It takes time to encrypt files, and turning the computer off stops the process. This may mean that only some of the files will be encrypted.
  • Take your computer to a professional. Make sure you tell the technician that you suspect ransomware, so the tech can remove the ransomware files before booting up your computer.

Don’t let ransomware ruin your day! Call or stop by Providence Computers today to talk to us and make sure you are protected, and get advice on what to do if you’re not.