You may have heard of ransomware in the news as it becomes more of a common threat, targeting individuals and businesses large and small. Learning how you can protect yourself from ransomware and other forms of malware can help ensure hackers won’t have the opportunity to hold your files, photos and important documents hostage.

How the ransom works

Ransomware is a type of malware (short for malicious software) that is downloaded onto your devices when you click on infected links, pop‑up ads, or email attachments. Malware can also be installed by downloading malicious apps and software or visiting infected websites. Once the malware has made its way onto an internet‑connected device, hackers can take control of your devices and encrypt, or lock, your files before demanding a ransom payment.

Criminals will request various amounts of money to ensure the ransom is paid and usually ask for payment in digital currency, such as bitcoins, so the payment can’t be traced. Keep in mind that even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee that criminals will unencrypt, or unlock, your files or that they won’t leak information about you online or try to access your now‑exposed online accounts.

Since it can be very difficult and sometimes impossible to recover encrypted files, the best way to protect yourself against a ransomware attack is to prevent the initial download of malware onto your devices.

How you can avoid downloading ransomware

  • Install reputable, up‑to‑date anti‑virus and anti‑malware protection software on all your devices and keep on top of updates.
  • Take the time to install the latest version of your operating system and applications.
  • Backup your files frequently to an external source - like 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 to never click on suspicious links or unexpected attachments.
  • Learn more about social engineering scams and the ways that scammers try to trick you into clicking on malware‑infected links or into opening infected attachments.

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 (1‑888‑495‑8501).

For more information

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security offers resources to help Canadians understand the ransomware threat and take action to protect themselves:

The Get Cyber Safe website offers a primer on ransomware: Ransomware 101: How to stay cyber secure

Download the CBA’s Cyber Security Toolkit to help protect yourself from cyber threats.

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