The day I was to meet a friend for coffee, an unexpected email arrived from him. As the message was about a contract and included an attachment — my friend being a real estate agent — I assumed he had sent the message in error and forwarded it back to him. When we met later, he informed me the message was bogus. Had I opened the attachment, my computer would have been frozen by ransomware. In other words, my computer would have been shut down by a person or persons unknown and to free it, I’d have had to shell out money.
Naturally I was unnerved by my narrow escape and, as fate would have it, a day later, I came across an article about ransomware by Andrea Rock in Money’s March edition, “Cybercrime Gets Personal.” I read with rapt attention. (pgs. 66-74.) Some of her material I covered in an earlier blog, (11/18/16), so I’ll concentrate here on how to get out of the mess once you’ve been hijacked.
By the way, Rock reports in 2016 there were 4,000 ransom attacks per day. (Ibid pg. 68.) Since Yahoo, LinkedIn and Google suffered breaches, the personal information of their customers is all over the cyber world. But having your personal information stolen isn’t the only problem. Ransomware can hide in legitimate places, videos, pictures, reader’s comments on blogs, ads in the New York Times, The BBC, and NFL.com and music sites to name a few. (Ibid pg. 70.)
If you get hijacked, the thieves are accommodating, Rock says. They will even arrange payment plans. Their goal is get money from you as quickly as possible and, says the author, their customer service is second to none. The average demand is between $200-$500. Last year the bandits raked in about $34million. (Ibid pg. 71.)
To protect yourself, don’t rush to buy the first security system you see. Some of them ARE ransomware sites. Rock recommends two companies: Malwarebytes and Sophos Home. Both are free (Ibid pg. 72.) And don’t assume you are invulnerable if you own a Mach or an Apple device. You aren’t.
Never click on links inside unsolicited emails even if it’s a company you know, including the IRS. Call if you have a question. Don’t use the email on the site. And always, always back up your computer files regularly. Use a thumb drive or external drive that disconnects from your computer.
If your machine does take a hit, there are folks who can help. Log on to NoMoreRanson.com There, you might discover which ransomware has infected your computer and whether or not a key exists that will unlock it. This site, says Rock, is free and “backed by law-enforcement agencies in 25 countries.” (Ibid pg. 73.) Another useful site which offers the same service is Abram’s BleepingComputer.com.
If a key is unavailable, you have two choices; pay the ransom or hire a technician to copy your drive, a process called cloning. He or she will also clear enough of your machines to enable you to use it. Later, the key to the ransomware may turn up. If it does, you can unlock your frozen information. Maddening, isn’t it?
(Originally published 5/1/17)