Good afternoon. Today we want to talk to you briefly about a computer virus called "Ransomware".
For those who don't know, Ransomeware attacks have been around for a few years and vary in nature, but at their core, Ransomware is designed to take your computer's files and hold them for literal ransom.
If you are the target of a Ransomware attack, you'll suddenly find your computer unusable. A message will appear on your computer describing how your computer's files are locked and encrypted. The message will say if you want to unlock them you'll have a short window of time to send money to an account to unlock a password to save your files. The threat goes on to tell you that if you don't send them money that your files will be gone forever.
Other message variations of Ransomware attacks will pose as Anti Virus companies and tell you that they are the only company that can clean your computer and remove the virus. Of course this comes with a hefty fee and ultimately no antivirus protection.
This is a very distressing thought for many, as files on a computer can be invaluable and irreplaceable. Some people choose to pay the ransom and save their files, other will disconnect their computers from its internet connection and take them to a trusted computer technician in an attempt to remove the Ransomware without paying the ransom.
Please understand that whether you do or do not pay that ransom, it is very difficult for law enforcement to track down these con artists and get you your money back. These are professional criminals who mask their names, locations, and often use middle men to launder your transactions.
Many times these middle men don't even know they are part of the scam, and are often being scammed themselves. When they receive your money, they often send another wire transfer to people they've never even met before, often to other countries. They never know why, for what, from who, or to where the money is going.
How can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of a Ransomware attack?
As always, only visit websites you trust.
Trust your internet browsers if they alert you to unsafe websites. Don't try to circumvent browser warnings.
Avoid websites that don't use a secure connection with "https://", the "S" being the important part of the address.
Do not open suspicious links in suspicious emails, especially from people you don't know.
If you get a strange email from somebody you DO know, and it doesn't seem normal, trust your instincts. Viruses are able to infect email address books and send mass emails impersonating people you know, trying to get you to click on infected links within.
Back up your files on an external hard drive and whenever possible, keep the external hard drive offline, disconnected from the internet. This will protect it from becoming infected itself, and give you peace of mind if a Ransomware attack ever befalls your system.
If you do become victim to a Ransomware attack, the choice will ultimately be up to you if you want to pay the ransom or not. But if you have everything backed up, you won't have to worry about being forced to pay.
Also quickly, I want to touch on another scam to pay attention for that falls into the 'it's too good to be true' category. If you're selling an item to a person and they want to send you a check for an amount that is substantially larger than what they owe you, THAT IS A RED FLAG. Their stories vary, but ultimately the gist is that they will over pay, then ask you to send them back a portion of the balance that they over paid and tell you to keep the rest. Of course the check is fake, even though they often appear very legit, and you'll ultimately lose the money you send them.
That ended up not being very brief. If you made it this far, we salute you.
Stay vigilant out there and trust your instincts.
- Chief Ziegler