Consider this: You go to pull a certain file from your computer, such as your company's payroll records. Instead of seeing this file, however, you instead see a message: "Compromised computer. To open the file, you must pay $400 for file decryption software." This message is a form of malware called ransomware.
How did you get ransomware? Probably through email, though hackers also use other methods of getting their programs distributed. The first thing to ask yourself if you suspect ransomware is whether you have clicked on any email link. Even if a link looks legitimate, it can be devastating to your computer.
What Should You Do About Ransomware?
Now that you know what ransomware is and how it's distributed, you may want to focus on how to prevent it from infecting your system and what you should do if your system becomes infected.
First, don't click on or pay anything when you see a banner or notification indicating ransomware. Instead, wipe your drive clean, then start restoring your data, assuming you've backed everything up. If not, you could lose a lot of important data. If you pay the ransom, you could be funding a criminal organization.
Though it may be devastating if your computer becomes infected with ransomware, it may be possible to prevent this infection from occurring, with the following steps:
- Don't automatically open email links or attachments, even if it's from someone you know. Before opening, heavily scrutinize any attachments.
- Use a browser extension that shows when a website might be malicious.
- Use both antivirus and firewall software.
- Regularly backup your data, preferably every day. There are services that will backup data for up to 90 days and save numerous versions of your files. This may help your company recover files even after ransomware takes hold.
What to Do if You Become Infected With Ransomware
Ransomware are often threats that originate from overseas. If you've been attacked by ransomware, consider using the following tips:
- Inform the cybercriminal that you will pay the fee, but need a bit of time to get the money.
- Gather all correspondence from the criminal.
- Contact your web hosting provider, not the police, as they may not do anything about it.
- If you experience a major loss, consider reaching out to the FBI, though they may only be able to offer limited support.
Handling a Computer Virus
A computer virus is a type of file that copies itself and then spreads those pieces to other devices. These often look safe, but in reality, can be quite dangerous. Common symptoms of viruses include spontaneously opening programs or apps, a slow running computer or emails that are originating from your account that you are not physically sending.
There are ways you may be able to protect yourself from viruses. Consider the following suggestions:
- Don't open programs, attachments or links found in an email unless you expect it. This includes links from people you know, as it could be fake. Check with that person before opening it.
- Don't use a public Wi-Fi connection unless using encryption software or a virtual private network (VPN).
- Use a firewall and keep security software up to date.
- Use the most recent version of your browser and operating system.
- Prevent unauthorized installation by using administrative rights.
- Train your employees on computer and network security, and confirm that they protect their personal devices.
- Backup all data on the network. If a virus destroys a computer, at least you'll have a backup. It may be best to use two methods, such as an on-site system and cloud.
Read more articles about digital tools.
A version of this article was originally published on January 5, 2015.