Authored by a Symantec employee
Due to the recent surge in ransomware attacks, the United States and Canada have issued a rare joint cyber alert, warning users about extortion attacks that infect computers with ransomware, which encrypts data and demands payments for it to be unlocked. The warning follows reports from several private security firms that they expect the crisis to worsen because hackers are getting more sophisticated and few businesses have adopted proper security measures to thwart such attacks. "Infections can be devastating to an individual or organization, and recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist," the two governments said in the alert, distributed by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre on Thursday.
The terminologies we employ to describe any number of online offenses are often used interchangeably. For example, people who have experienced identity theft might refer to the experience as a ‘cyber attack’, ‘hack’ or ‘virus’. However, some online criminals use a very specific tactic—one that actually fits its name.
Ransomware has a unique and specific agenda, and one that can be entirely avoided if properly understood. Here’s a closer look at ransomware and how to avoid this online disaster:
What Is Ransomware?
One of the first reported instances of ransomware activity occurred in 2013 and became known as CryptoLocker. Unlike other malware, which generally seeks to collect user data through backdoors, ransomware is far more assertive in its pursuit of obtaining immediate monetary gains. This is done by locking out a user from their device and holding personal and professional data ‘ransom’ unless demands are met within a specific period of time.
Ransomware generally presents users with an ultimatum: pay a fee to unlock and reclaim personal data, or don’t pay the fee and lose the data indefinitely. Ransomware is able to automatically corrupt and delete files in the event that monetary compensation is not received, leaving most users with little time to resolve the problem through alternate means. However, just like malware, ransomware is an evolving threat that can become more sophisticated over short periods of time.
This is why, in the wake of all the ransomware threats in 2013, users simply paid the fee and beefed up their personal online security after the fact.
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How to Prevent an Attack
If this all sounds like a bad suspense drama, you’re not alone. Thousands of people have been victimized using ransomware, and unfortunately most of those threats could have been avoided if users had taken one very simple step: backing up their information.
While ransomware is an aggressive and obtrusive attack on your personal device, it’s a threat that obtains its power from the prevailing notion that most users don’t regularly back up their data. The reason users are willing to pay for their personal data is because the only copy of the information is on the device being locked down. If you have multiple copies of your personal data, there’s no reason to fear losing the data.
So you see, all you have to do to avoid the threat of ransomware is to regularly back up your data to an external hard drive or cloud-based system. If you use an external hard drive, be sure it’s kept safe and unplugged from the computer when you’re not backing up. Likewise, do your homework on whichever cloud-based service you decide to use. Find out where the servers are located and who, if anyone, has access to them.
By staying proactive about your online security and backing up your personal data, you can greatly reduce online threats caused by ransomware.
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