These and similar announcements appear if you’ve been attacked by ransomware. It is a malicious program infecting your computer, blocking your files and demanding a payment, usually in hundreds and thousands of dollars. It is scary because you are not able to access your files and even paying the ransom does not necessarily mean you are getting your files back.
Today, most of malware attacks are targeted to small and medium companies, often without an IT department. They still aim for individual people as well, which means that it is extremely important to learn more about the attacks and their prevention.
The easiest and cheapest way to deal with ransomware attacks is to be prepared in advance. Some steps you can take:
- Educate yourself and your colleagues. Most people take it for granted that you should not open attachments from unknown senders, click on strange links, visit unsafe websites or plug in randomly found USB drives, but it is still important to educate everyone around you about these simple and easy steps to prevent malware. Regular training and increased computer literacy are the best weapons against online crime.
- Back up your files regularly. You should do it even without the threat of ransomware. Backing up your files, preferably both on a physical device and on cloud, is the most important step you can take to safeguard your files. Is your computer attacked? No problem, wipe it clean and install your operating system from scratch. Your files will be waiting for you online (just be careful and put them through a strong anti-malware program — it’s possible the infected file is backed up as well). While many people think that file back-up is a difficult and time-consuming procedure, it takes a only 10 minutes to setup our backup tool and is almost undetectable afterwards. It is also not particularly costly: 1 TB of lifetime storage space costs only 99 dollars.
- Put up antivirus programs and e-mail filters. You computers should have antivirus and anti-malware software scanning the system regularly. E-mail filters help reducing the amount of spam and infected mail reaching your mailbox. They are especially useful in workplaces with lower computer literacy, as some of the e-mails pretend to be malware attacks without actually encrypting your documents and use similar tricks to scam people. For example, your elderly colleague might answer an e-mail asking for their credit card information or your kid might check on an e-mail promising a cartoon and turning out to be an infected link.
- Update your operating system regularly. Operating system developers fight against malware, and updates often include important security patches which you might miss because you’re too impatient to wait a few minutes for the operating system to update. Remember that regular updates might be the difference between losing all your files and not even noticing an attempted attack.
And what to do if you’ve followed all of the suggestions and your computer is still infected? Don’t succumb to panic. If you’ve backed up all your files, the loss will be minimal. If you have not, you can try finding a solution online — popular solutions include resetting your system to an earlier time or deleting all recently installed files. Another way to fight the ransomware is to bring your device to technical support company and let professionals do their magic.
And should you pay the attackers? Usually, no. First, you can never be sure the attackers will actually release the files once the money is paid. Second, people who have paid the ransom are often attacked again because now the attackers know they can expect money.
In short: be smart, be safe, back up your files, don’t pay to evil people.