I’m going to tell you a story today. I think it’s quite scary but, as they used to say on Crimewatch, “don’t have nightmares”; there is light at the end of the tunnel. First, the scary bit – I want to tell you about a particularly nasty phenomenon called “Ransomware”.
Ransomware is a kind of computer virus that, once it has infected your computer, will start to encrypt your files to make them inaccessible. Once your files have been encrypted, you are shown a message saying that they will not be decrypted again unless you pay the people behind the ransomware a sum of money. See where the name comes from now? Your files are held to ransom.
You might think that having to be available for a financial transaction would make the criminals behind this sort of scheme vulnerable. After all, if you have to know where to send the money, surely the police could use that same information to track them down. The Internet is a global system, however, so while it may be simple for you to transfer money to a PayPal account in, say, Russia, getting the police to turn up at the criminals’ door is another matter entirely! Some of these criminals are only accepting payment in Bitcoin, a kind of electronic currency that is totally untraceable. In those cases, there’s no chance of tracking down where your money went, or indeed of getting a refund.
Quite apart from the financial aspect, there are other things about ransomware that worry me.
- If it isn’t written well, Ransomware can cause damage to your files when encrypting or decrypting them. So, even if you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee that you would get all your files back unharmed.
- Ransomware is a criminal activity. What’s to stop the perpetrators taking your money and not bothering to tell you how to decrypt your files? I mean, if they were underhanded enough to encrypt your files in the first place, how trustworthy can they be?
If I’m honest, the reason I’m writing this article now is that my antivirus software has been picking up emails with Ransomware attachments like crazy lately. Just this morning I had three in my inbox. Now, maybe I’m an exceptional case because my email address is “out there” on several websites, but there’s every chance you will receive Ransomware by email too at some point. With something this nasty, I don’t think it’s worth taking the risk of accidentally triggering it and losing access to your files.
So what can you do?
Well, you will have guessed from the subject of this very article. If you spend any time online you must have antivirus software installed. If you’re using Windows 8.1 and upwards you have Windows Defender built-in. This is Microsoft’s own antivirus software and, according to their own information, should protect you against most viruses. If you have Windows 7 or below, you may have Windows Defender, but it doesn’t include virus protection.
If you prefer to use a different antivirus tool from the one built-in to Windows, there are plenty out there. They range from free, such as AVG, and Avast (both of which are available for PCs and Macs) up to paid-for solutions like Norton and Mcafee. If you’re interested the one I use is Bitdefender. I have a version for my PC (Total Security 2016) which includes Ransomware protection, and a version for my Mac which is antivirus only. Both have done a great job of keeping my computers safe so far and, as I mentioned, I’m seeing them protecting from Ransomware emails regularly. If you’re a Windows user, there is a free version of Bitdefender available too!
Whatever option you choose to go for, I would very highly recommend that you do have antivirus running on your computer, whether that’s making sure you have Windows Defender enabled or installing a third-party tool. Cyber criminals are out there, and they’re after your money! Let’s make it as difficult for them as possible.
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