Ransomware is a new and particularly troubling form of malware, and it has been striking throughout the country and around the world. From large Fortune 500 corporations to small mom-and-pop operations to individual computer owners, no one is immune from the threat of ransomware, and when it strikes the consequences can be dire.
What is Ransomware?
Unlike other forms of malware, which can steal your personal information and destroy your data, the perpetrators of a ransomware scheme literally hold your files hostage until you pay up. It works by encrypting the files on the target computer, with the creator of the malware holding the key. Once it is in place, the scam artists contacts the victim and demands payment to unlock the files.
It is easy to see why ransomware is so effective. If the target is a company server, the owner of the business may have no other choice but to pay the ransom. The same is true if the targeted files are precious family photographs or other irreplaceable items.
How can I prevent it?
As with any other form of malware infection, the best defense is protection. Running strong antivirus software on your computer, scanning the PC frequently and watching out for the early warning signs are all effective ways to keep your files safe and your data protected.
Knowing the early warning signs of an infection can be particularly effective, since there is often a lag time between the planting of the ransomware and the demand for payment. If you can catch the infection early, you may be able to cure it and keep the ransom demand from coming. If you notice any of these early warning signs, you should suspect ransomware and have your computer examined carefully by a professional.
- Files that are suddenly inaccessible. In order for ransomware to work, it must first encrypt your files. In the early stages of the encryption process previously accessible files may suddenly not be available anymore.
- Unusual messages or pop-up windows that persist even after your pop-up blocker has been activated. Ransomware and other malware often deactivates pop-up blockers and other protective software.
- Messages indicating that a program is trying to access the Internet. If a program starts running and you did not start it, you should suspect malware or ransomware.
- People in your contact list complain of receiving messages that you did not send. Malware often hijacks the target’s contact list in an attempt to spread itself and infect additional computers.
- Your previously fast computer slows to a crawl or stops responding in the middle of running a program or opening a file. The encryption process used by ransomware programs takes up a lot of system resources and can slow your computer significantly.
- A sudden increase in hard drive activity or a drive that spins all the time and makes a lot of noise. Keep an eye on the hard drive light on your computer and be suspicious if it is on all the time or frequently flashing.
- Disappearing files or folders. Files or folders that disappear or reappear could indicate a ransomware or other malware infection.
Ransomware is a growing threat, and its creators are busy targeting small businesses, large corporations and individual users. If you suspect that your computer has been compromised, it is important to scan it carefully, seek professional help and guidance and notify the local authorities right away. The FBI and other Federal authorities have been fighting the scourge of ransomware for years now, but it is up to every computer owner to know the warning signs and be on the lookout for a potential infection.