Ransomware is a form of malware that locks and denies access to victim computers, digital files and systems once encrypted. When a user learns their computer is locked, the cyber-criminal will demand payment to unlock files and allegedly allow consumers to regain access.
Ransomware is often spread through email attachments and botnets. Once opened, the ransomware installs itself to the computer and uses a public key to encrypt a variety of file types such as images, documents and spreadsheets. The malware searches for files to encrypt on all drives and in all folders.
Once the virus is installed, a pop-up will advise the user that payment is required to obtain a 'private key', which if not paid, will result in the encrypted files being deleted. There is no guarantee against exploitation. Advancements in technology continue to make prevention an important aspect to limit ransomware.
The user is given approximately 24 to 72 hours to pay before the private key is destroyed and the files are lost forever. Payments range in the hundreds and can be requested by Bitcoin, UKash, Green Dog or other digital payment systems.Scammers claim paying the ransom will unlock the computer and enable the decrypting process, however, it is unknown if payments will result in obtaining the "key" or unlocked files.
Warning sign(s) - How to protect yourself
- Avoid opening email attachments from unknown sources, especially .zip files.
- Ensure your anti-virus software is active and up to date. Regularly schedule scans to search and remove already existing malware.
- Keep your operating system and software up to date.
- Make regular backups of important files.
- Be vigilant against clicking on links or attachments within emails.
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