The rise of ransomware

With hacking a growing hot topic, everyone needs to know what to do when their data is being held hostage
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Nick Shaw

By Nick Shaw, vice president and general manager of Consumer Business Unit, Symantec

Ransomware is on the rise, and last year it was supersized by attacks like WannaCry and ransomware attacks involve hackers holding your digital files hostage and demanding payment for you to get them back. It poses a dilemma that no one hopes to face: should you pay up if you fall victim to a ransomware attack?

This malware-based extortion is now one of the most significant and dangerous cyber threats facing consumers. According to our Symantec Internet Security Threat Report 2017, consumers made up 69 per cent of all ransomware victims last year. And to top it off, the number of ransomware families more than tripled in 2016. Criminals are creating new forms of this malware to evade detection, cause disruption and increase profits. Of course, it’s not just consumers who are suffering, WannaCry hit organisations globally, and caused widespread chaos.

The most common way to be infected with ransomware is via emails. A consumer might receive an email luring them to open an attachment or clicking a malicious link, which would cause the ransomware to download itself onto the victim’s device and encrypt their files. At this point, attackers demand payment, often in Bitcoin, in return for access to their files.

Our digital information is of a lot of value to us, whether it’s precious photos and videos, important documents, or irreplaceable files. As such, the temptation is great to wave a white flag, surrender, and pay the ransom to get them back. More than one-third of victims choose to pay the ransom, which is why the average ransom has increased considerably, jumping by 266 per cent from $294 in 2015 to $1,077 in 2016, and why an increasing number of attackers are jumping on the bandwagon; for a few minutes’ work, a criminal could earn several thousand dollars.

However, paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee your files back. Before parting with money, bear in mind that you’re expecting a crook to hold up their end of the bargain. It’s a huge risk and less than half (47 per cent) of victims who pay up regain access to their files.

Prevention is always the best cure. Here are my top tips on how to avoid falling victim to a ransomware attack:

Firstly, back up your data regularly on an external drive or a secure online file hosting service. It’s the number one way of combating ransomware infection. Keep your security software up to date to protect against the growing and evolving ransomware threat. Take utmost care when opening emails. Look out for spelling and grammar mistakes, and delete any suspicious looking emails you receive. Manually type a company’s web address in your browser as opposed clicking on suspicious links you may receive. Be extremely wary of any Microsoft Office email that advises you to enable macros to view its content. Only do this if you trust the source. If not, delete the email. 

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