Avoiding Hostage Situations (With Your Data) - Word&Way

Avoiding Hostage Situations (With Your Data)

How do you keep your digital information safe? My advice has always been to install updates, use antivirus software and backup your data. Those who don’t, risk attracting malware that can corrupt files, access your personal information or use your computer to send out spam and more malware.

Ken SatterfieldKen SatterfieldRansomware adds a new twist. Once infected, your information is encrypted and you are given the option of paying for an encryption key or losing the information. And if you pay, there is no guarantee that you will receive the key — or your machine may still be compromised and subjected to a future ransom request. A chilling dramatization of how an attack works can be found at tinyurl.com/MAF-rware1.

A report by IBM found nearly 40 percent of spam email sent last year contained ransomware. While most experts advise against paying ransom, an estimated $25 million has been collected over the past two years, according to Google in July. It has inspired new variations: ransom amounts may increase over time, or decryption may be offered for free for agreeing to infect others. One variation for Android was identified that copied text, photos and browser histories and threatened to send them to a person’s contacts if it isn’t paid.

Businesses, churches and individuals have been victimized. A business owner I know told me his network was infected and he was forced to pay because their backups were not working. He asked for proof that the key would work and it was provided — along with a new, higher ransom amount.

ChurchNetTech has created an infographic that explains sources and prevention of ransomware (tinyurl.com/MAF-rware2). Tips suggested include setting the computer system to automatically update, practice routine maintenance and backup, install patches and avoid suspicious emails and attachments. It is sad that many ransomware attacks in the past year were the results of a patch that had long been available and simply not installed by victims.

One answer is the No More Ransom Project (www.nomoreransom.org), a compilation of more than 100 partners offering more than 54 decryption tools including keys. A reminder the site shares is to “trust no one” because a friend or co-worker’s account can be compromised and come through social media or a gaming partner.

One thing for sure: the news can change daily. What may be true a month ago may no longer be current as new protection wrestles with different malware variations. Listen to the news, be cautious and consider regular service contacts with local IT professionals.

Ken Satterfield is a former media specialist and Word&Way marketing director.