What is ransomware and how can you protect yourself?

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Pay the ransom or lose your data forever

The Atlanta Police Department recently lost dashcam footage going back years and so far the clean up cost has topped a hefty $9.5 million. That number could climb even higher before they’re done.

The ransomware infection started with one infected server and spread until it had disrupted one-third of the programs being used by the City of Atlanta.. The city refused to pay the $51,000 ransom demanded by the hackers and in a flash their data was lost forever. Poof!

Two types of ransomware: Crypto and locker

Locker ransomware encrypts the entire hard drive while crypto ransomware encrypts specific files. In both cases if the user doesn’t pay up the files can be instantly deleted or corrupted. This is what happened to the City of Atlanta. It made the decision not to pay the ransom. That resulted in lost data and millions of dollars in clean up cost.

Unfortunately, the threat from ransomware is growing and people tend to be less than vigilant when it comes to these things either out of ignorance or simply because they believe that it can’t happen to them. 

How does a ransomware attack happen?

Ransomware is primarily distributed via phishing emails with malicious attachments or via something called “exploit kits” that allow hackers to look for security vulnerabilities. When they find one they send the ransomware to the computer and hold the data hostage. The hackers then ask you for money and if you don’t pay up they get rid of your data. Not a very pleasant situation.

How you can protect yourself against ransomware

  1. Make sure that you frequently back up your important data.  Obviously, if you have a copy of it the bad guys can’t hold it for ransom. Make sure that those backups are protected though. You might even want to store them offline.
  2. Keep your software updated, including your operating system. The updates will include patches for known vulnerabilities that ransomware attackers will attempt to exploit.
  3. Be careful of email attachments and any links they might contain. 
  4. If you receive any Microsoft Office email attachments asking you to enable macros in order to read them proceed with extreme caution. If you aren’t 100% sure about the source of the email do not enable the macros. Delete the email immediately.
  5. Keep your security software up to date because new varieties of ransomware pop up all the time.


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