Europol warns for a new form of computer crime: ransomware. These are viruses that take your computer as it were “hostage.” You have to pay money, otherwise all your files will be destroyed. How do you avoid being held hostage to your computer?
Four questions about this new form of computer crime
1. How does ransomware work?
The virus usually enters through a vague e-mail with an attachment. If you open it, ransomware encrypts all your important files without you even noticing it: pictures, text files, music and movies all will be encrypted. Only when all those files are “held hostage” by the cybercriminals, you get a warning. There is a countdown clock screen that indicates how much time you have to pay ransom to get your files back.
Often you have to pay the criminal with Bitcoins. If you do not, all your files will be destroyed. There are many companies and individuals wo have already become a victim of ransomware. The damage runs into millions and the perpetrators are hard to catch.
2. How do you prevent infection with ransomware?
The important thing is to never open emails from senders you do not know or trust, especially if the emails come unexpectedly. Never open attachments to those emails.
Make sure you regularly update your antivirus program. Also always install Windows updates. The same applies for your web browser, pdf program, java and flash: check regularly that you use the latest versions.
3. What can you do to reduce the impact of ransomware?
Regularly back up all your important files on an external hard drive that is not connected by default on your computer. The ransomware contamination also looks to network drives and attached USB drives and encrypts those immediately. Also storage via the cloud is not always safe for the virus.
4. What if your computer is already infected?
When the computer is infected and the timer is running, you can do little more than take your losses and let the clock countdown. Paying ransom is a bad decision. The criminals are rewarded and will therefore keep going with infecting computers. You give cybercriminals what they want. In addition, you do business with criminals that have infected your computer with a virus. You never know if after paying the ransom you really get the key to undo the encryption.