Ransomware attacks are the latest cyber scams affecting individuals and businesses. With this type of malware, hackers try to extort money from corporations and consumers alike.

How the scam works

Ransomware is malware, or malicious software, that is usually mistakenly downloaded onto your home or business computer when you click on infected pop-up advertisements, websites or email attachments. Once the malware is on your computer, hackers can take control of your computer and encrypt your files, including your documents and photos. When files are encrypted, it is very much like the files are locked, and scammers will demand a ransom payment to unencrypt and unlock the files.

Criminals will often request small amounts of money – sometimes as low as $100 – to ensure the ransom is paid and may even ask for payment in bitcoins, a new form of digital currency, so the payment can’t be traced. However, even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee that they will unencrypt your files.

The best way to protect yourself against a ransomware attack is to prevent the initial download of malware onto your computer since it can be very difficult to recover encrypted files.

How you can protect yourself

Here is how you can protect yourself against malware:

  • Install reputable, up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware protection software and install patches wherever your anti-virus supplier recommends it.
  • Ensure your computer software is up-to-date.
  • Backup your files frequently to an external source - such as an external drive or cloud-based storage - that is not linked to your computer. If they are linked, your backed-up data could be encrypted too.
  • Be careful and don’t click on links or open attachments from unknown addresses – you could unknowingly download the malware by clicking on an email attachment, link or online pop-up window.
  • Make sure you have a pop-up blocker running in your web browser.
  • Don’t visit suspicious or unsafe websites.
  • For businesses, include protecting against ransomware in your crisis management planning. This will help identify gaps and force you to plan what you would do in the event that your files aren’t accessible.

What to do if you are a victim

It can be very difficult to unencrypt your files and remove the ransomware from your computer. If you are the victim of ransomware, you can consider the following:

  • Check with your anti-virus provider - if you are familiar with data recovery, you may try to remove the malware yourself. Some anti-virus providers can detect this malware and may have instructions and software to help.
  • Consult an IT security specialist – a professional may be able to help you remove the ransomware and restore your files if you have them backed up.
  • Change your passwords – change all of your online passwords, particularly for things like online banking. That will stop the criminals from accessing your accounts if they were able to access your passwords.
  • Report the scam – alert your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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