Your computer held to ransom

It’s not often computers cause visceral emotional responses other than frustration and anger, but a wave of nasty hijacks has affected computer owners across Baw Baw.

lock by Holly Victoria Norval

“I felt as though I had been completely violated.”

“Someone stole everything on my computer including my photos and financial records. Now I have to pay them to get it back.”

“Why me?”

Ransomware – yet another form of malware – has become a great earner for cyber criminals. Attackers are like home invaders who break into your house, take your photo albums and tax documents and leave a ransom note, and in the largely digital world we live in today the impact is the same.

How does one wind up the victim of such an attack? In the same way many forms of malware are spread: email. A hacker finds your email address – in many local cases from chain emails and community newsletters where senders have used CC (carbon copy) instead of BCC (blind carbon copy) – and sends you an email with a disguised link to the ransomware; Crypt010cker is one example. Once in your system it spreads to devices attached to your PC and home network, encrypting your photos, accounting files and everything else, locking you out of them. A ransom note is left on the computer demanding cash in return for decryption.

It’s a terrifying attack and shows there is money to be made from unsafe email practices and malware, but what can you do to make sure it does not happen to you? Prevention, as always, is better than a cure. Backup your data regularly and do not leave the backup drive attached to your computer when it’s done – ransomware is fast and smart and will see your backup and delete files from that too. Having good antivirus with parental controls switched on also helps; yes, you’re not a child but these blocks stop you from accidentally visiting dangerous websites. Good quality antivirus is important as many free offerings are not equipped to deal with ransomware.

If you have clicked a bad link, hold your computer’s off button for 5-10 seconds to force it to switch off or flick the power switch on the wall quickly. It’s not good for the computer, but the longer you leave your computer on after the ransomware starts working the more data you could lose. Do not turn the computer back on and seek professional advice. If you use your computer for banking let your bank know immediately and change every password you can access without switching your PC back on.

Drop into Itaffinity for a free “Data Backup Considerations” fact sheet, a copy of the Australian Government’s “Protecting Yourself Online” booklet and visit scamwatch.gov.au for further information.

And finally, a very important message: avoid using CC in your emails. Using BCC instead will protect your friends and co-workers from a ransomware attack. Chain email jokes are only funny until someone loses a file.

Photo: by Holly Victoria Norval on Flickr.