In the past few years, a most insidious computer attack has been growing.  Through system vulnerabilities caused by sloppy and insecure software, or social engineering, cyber criminals are infiltrating our computers (PCs and Macs).  Along with all the other maladies they are causing, this new type of attack encrypts or locks up our data so we can no longer access it.  The general term isRansomware.  So-called because after the attacker locks up the data on the computer, they usually send an email or put up a message on the screen informing the victim of the situation and demanding exorbitant sums of money to unlock the data.  The payment terms are often in exotic currencies like the bitcoin, and there is usually a deadline after which they throw away the key making the data forever irretrievable.

Until the infiltrations can be subdued, what can we do to minimize or eliminate such a catastrophe?  First, there’s little that can be done after the fact.  Paying the ransom only puts more money in the criminal’s pockets so they can further enhance their illicit activities, and they might not unlock your data anyway.  The best way to handle this situation is to avoid it in the first place.  I have written in the past about safe Internet practices; these continues to be very important.  Minimize the possibilities of an attack by staying on known safe sites.  Then, make sure you have good offline backups.

Ransomware viruses seek out all on-line data, including data you store on your C: drive (e.g. My Documents and your desktop), data your store on servers, and data you store in the cloud, such as Google Drive.  It will lock it all up.  So, your best defense is to have off-line backups.  On a regular basis, copy all your data to an external, removable device such as a USB Flash Drive, remove it from your computer and store it away in a physically safe place.  Then don’t forget to update it regularly.  If, even after practicing the most prudent safe computing, you should find your data held hostage, you know you can ignore the demands for money, clean your computer of the virus, and then restore your data from your off-line backup.

For more detail on this, Google Ransomware.  May the Fourth Be With You!