This blog post was written by Nick Viney.
You may have heard about the hack of a Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles a couple of months ago, in which the hospital was targeted by cyber criminals who infiltrated and disabled its computer network using ransomware.
When hospital employees reported being unable to access the hospital’s network and electronic medical records system, it was forced to pay a ransom of about $17,000 (£12,000). Before then, the hospital was literally locked out of its own computer system.
Worryingly, this type of malware attack is on the rise, and shows no signs of slowing down.
And it’s not just affecting companies — consumers too, are being targeted. In 2015, the FBI reported receiving just under 2,500 individual complaints about ransomware attacks, which amounted to a staggering combined loss of more than $24 million for the victims.
So what is ransomware?
Put simply, ransomware is malicious software that cyber criminals use to encrypt a victim’s data, holding a computer, or computer files, for ransom, and demanding payment for the decryption key so that the victim can get their data back.
How does ransomware get on your computer?
Ever received a seemingly legitimate email with attachments? Well one of the most common ways hackers trick people into downloading ransomware is through spam emails and email attachments. The emails and attachments seem genuine, but in fact carry viruses that once downloaded, can infiltrate a person’s computer system.
How can you protect yourself from ransomware?
While ransomware attacks sound frightening — and indeed they can be — there are a number of simple steps you can take to protect yourself:
- First and foremost, it’s important to safeguard yourself against ransomware by regularly backing up your files, either to an external drive that is not connected to your network, or a backup service.
- Be wary of any unsolicited or suspicious looking emails. Click here for McAfee’s guide on how to spot a dodgy email.
- Use anti-virus software to protect yourself against new exploits that aren’t yet fixed by an update. While anti-virus software is an expense, the cost is far less than what cybercriminals will demand in ransom.
- Immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and your network if you download a file that you suspect may be ransomware. If you’re quick enough, you could delay the communication with the server before it finishes encrypting your files.
- If you are targeted with ransomware, avoid paying the ransom. This will encourage the cybercriminals to continue developing more complex and sophisticated forms of ransomware, plus, it’s also not guaranteed that the hackers will give you the key to decrypt your files anyway.
Read more about ransomware and the strategies used to defeat it here.