Beware the Rise of
By Kim Boatman
The latest spin on a ransom note isn’t composed of letters clipped
out of a newspaper. Increasingly, criminals are unleashing brash attacks
on your PC and its data through a type of malicious software called
It’s exasperating enough when your computer is sluggish because of
a virus, but what if the virus installs embarrassing pornography on your
screen or encrypts your data so you can’t read it? Ransomware attacks
often use these tactics to demand you pay a ransom to remove the
pornography or to access your files.
Ransomware on the
“There’s more and more
documented evidence that this is going on,” says Ori Eisen,
founder and chief innovation officer of fraud prevention company 41st
Parameter. “It’s more prevalent in the United Kingdom, which is sort of a
staging or testing ground. It’s starting there and getting more
The FBI recently
issued an alert about the broader category of rogueware,
which include ransomware and fake antivirus scareware scams. According to
the FBI, criminals are netting an estimated $150 million a year through
these scams. “Ransomware is actually scarier” than the scareware scams, says
Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based identity theft
expert. “There’s nothing worse in the field of technology than having a
criminal in control of your network. When a ransomware attack occurs, it
can easily elevate from a potential data loss to potential identity theft
to a data breach in the form of extortion.”
How ransomware works
These aggressive assaults begin in a similar manner to scareware. You’re
duped into clicking on an infected popup advertisement or you visit an infected
website. However, instead of just trying to trick you into buying fake
antivirus software, the bad guys hold your computer hostage and attempt
to extort payment.
In some instances, ads
for pornographic websites appear on your screen each time you try to
click on a Web page. The ads cover a portion of the page you’re trying to
view. “Just imagine you’re sitting at work and that happens to you,” says
Eisen. One ransomware attack puts time pressure
on the victim, stating that a piece of your data will be destroyed every
30 minutes if you don’t pay up. Another attack attempts to force you to
purchase a program to de-encrypt your data.
The criminals often
ask for a nominal payment, figuring you’ll be more likely to pay to avoid
the hassle and heartache of dealing with the virus. They may ask for as
little as $10 to be wired through Western Union, paid through a premium
text message or sent through a form of online cash.
Protect yourself from
As with other attacks, you can work to avoid ransomware. Experts advise
taking these steps to avoid attacks or protect yourself after an attack:
- Use reputable antivirus
software and a firewall. Maintaining a strong
firewall and keeping your security software up to date are critical.
It’s important to use antivirus software from a reputable company
because of all the fake software out there.
- Back up often. If
you back up files to either an external hard drive or to an online
backup service, you diminish the threat, says Eisen.
“If you back up your information, you should not be afraid to just
turn off your computer and start over with a new install if you come
under attack.” Eisen backs up his data
regularly, so every six months, he simply restores his computer’s
system to default and starts afresh. “I would highly recommend it,”
- Enable your popup
blocker. Popups are a prime tactic used by the bad
guys, so simply avoid even accidentally clicking on an infected
popup. If a popup appears, click on the X in the right-hand corner.
The buttons within a popup might have been reprogrammed by the
criminals, so do not click on them.
- Exercise caution. Don’t
click on links inside emails, and avoid suspicious websites. If your
PC does come under attack, use another computer to research details
about the type of attack. But be aware that the bad guys are devious
enough to create fake sites, perhaps touting their own fake
antivirus software or their de-encryption program.
- Disconnect from the
Internet. If you receive a ransomware note,
disconnect from the Internet so your personal data isn’t transmitted
back to the criminals, says Eisen. He
recommends simply shutting down the computer. If you have backed up
your data, you can re-install software. If you don’t feel
comfortable doing so or you are unable to start fresh, you may need
to take your computer to a reputable repair shop, says Eisen.
- Alert authorities. Ransomware
is a serious form of extortion. “Local police are probably not
equipped to deal with this,” explains Siciliano.
“However, the local FBI would want to know about it.”
Don’t be tempted to
give in and pay the ransom, warns Siciliano.
“Paying them would be a mistake because they will further extort you and
most likely not release your information.” Taking precautions to protect
your information and maintaining vigilance are the best solutions to
avoid becoming a victim in the first place.
Compliments On Eagles Wings Inc