Modern day hackers are a creative bunch. In the last decade, they’ve found ways to infiltrate various high level computer systems and nab countless bits of personal information for their own purposes. More recently, they’ve taken their efforts to individual computer owners using viruses called Ransomware—and they’re pretty absurdly genius, as well as a low blow to the common consumer.
Here’s how Ransomware works: instead of digging into your computer like regular Trojan horses and corrupting your files, the Ransomware viruses lock them down and charge you a regionally appropriate fee to access your information again. In a nutshell: it’s computer-nabbing. Genius, right? Undeniably so, but it’s also pretty obnoxious.
More than that, many consumers are actually paying the ransom amount because the hackers creating these viruses are setting costs at between $300 and $700, a not entirely unreasonable amount for some people—especially people who might have one or two worries about illegal downloads and prosecution.
Depending on the region, the charges will vary, almost as if the hackers intended to adjust the “ransom” to a reasonable amount for cost of living in the area. And it’s worked. According to Candid Wueest, a threat researcher with Symantec, “One group made $34,000 in its first month—that’s a pretty good income for a small group.”
Wueest also stated that there are around 30,000 infections per day around the globe. In many cases, once the Ransomware has seized a device, there’s little to be done to recover the data without payment since these groups are using state-of-the-art cryptography techniques—the same ones used by banks and online retailers all the time. Without the exact, individual decryption key to unlock the device, there’s little that can be done.
With that in mind, the most important thing for consumers is preparation. Below are a few precautionary steps you can take, in order to prevent hackers from taking your photos, documents, and other computer files as hostages.
- Back up your data. This means more than just a cloud drive that automatically links to your computer and downloads your information to an online server. A better method is to keep an external hard-drive to regularly back-up all or most of your documents, photos, and other files. These items would be much safer without easy accessibility to the internet.
- Make sure you’re using anti-virus software—and keep the updates current. Good anti-virus software is essential for protecting your system and your data. Without the right firewalls and protections, you’re basically open and ready for an infiltration. While it may not stop every invasion, the right software will keep all but the most advanced efforts from getting through.
- Keep your operating system up-to-date. Don’t ignore the system updates as the reminders come in. Those updates usually contain modifications to the operating system that will help keep your data safe. Often, companies like Microsoft will analyze the different viruses as they occur and create patches that protect your system from intrusion. These patches will usually be meshed up in other little operation system fixes and adjustments, so make sure you take the time to keep your system current.
While it’s almost impossible to be completely hack proof, hackers tend to operate much like bullies or petty criminals. They are looking for easy marks. Don’t let yourself fall into that category by ignoring simple protections that could stop Ransomware from holding your computer hostage.
About the Author – Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .
Top Photo Courtesy of Buster Benson @ Flickr CC.