What is “ransomware”, why is it so dangerous and what can you do to protect yourself?

Ransomware is a program that once on your computer encrypts your files making them unreadable.  Ransomware first appeared several years ago but is making a resurgence. Programs such as “Cryptolocker 2.0” usually infect your computer encrypting your files, documents, spreadsheets etc. then displays a screen like the one below warning you that your files can only be recovered by paying a ransom for the key needed to unlock or decrypt the files.  Once the program gets this far there is little you can do but pay the ransom.  

Paying the ransom is not advised and will only enable the cyber criminals to continue their illegal behavior.  The best course of action is to prevent infection and be prepared in case it does happen.  Hopefully the tips below will help you protect your computer.


Some of the simplest steps to prevent infection are:

1. Most ransomware uses email as its delivery method so avoid unknown or suspicious emails, email attachments and links in emails.  If you suspect an email is SPAM delete it don’t open it.

2. Purchase or download from a reputable source an anti-virus program and an anti-malware program including an ad blocker. Learn to use your browsers trusted site feature.

3. If you use a browser such as Chrome or Firefox keep them updated so that plugins are current or avoid using plugins as they are an easy target for cyber criminals.

If you are unlucky enough to encounter ransomware the best way to recover is to have a current backup of all your files. The most common ransomware action is the encryption of files on the affected computer and the only way to recover without paying the ransom is to have a current backup of all your files. Backups should be kept separate from your computer or mobile device. Recommended solutions are a “thumb drive” or a USB connected external hard drive or a service like Dropbox or cloud storage such as Carbonite. If you use your computer often set the backup to run nightly.  

Again the best protection is to ensure you never get infected by ransomware but don’t go without backing up your files because you never know what might happen!