It’s files (not people) that are likely to be captured but it’s a crime that’s increasing and one you should protect yourself against.
In the last few years, a particularly malicious form of software – known as Ransomware – has emerged as a lucrative income source for criminals. Once an infected file of this kind unleashes itself on your computer you will find you are unable to access files and will probably receive a ransom demand for payment in untraceable currency (such as Bitcoin) to release the files which have been encrypted and locked. Ransomware is spread through phishing emails containing harmful attachments or links or via scam websites which trick people into accidentally installing the software on their computers.
While awareness about the need to safeguard sensitive and confidential data is improving, people tend to be less cautious about protecting computers and hard drives. We believe that anti-virus software and firewalls will keep us safe but malware is evolving all the time and those who want to exploit it work hard to stay ahead of the defences we put in place. Many of us have items we value stored on a hard drive – key pieces from a portfolio of work, precious family photos or videos or the information we need to complete a fast approaching deadline. Ransomware is designed to exploit this and deliberately puts pressure on the intended victim through psychological tricks such as a countdown ticker and possibly a webcam feed to the attacker. You might also receive a demand which implies illegal material has been found on your computer. Sometimes, criminals will call you or someone in an organisation before they send the email to improve the chances of it being opened.
Protect yourself from this kind of threat, by taking these actions.
- Always check links and web pages to be sure they are genuine; constant vigilance is your best defence.
- Keep your files backed up. If you have other copies of your important files, you will be less pressured by fraudsters’ tricks.
- If you find yourself the victim of an attack, keep a cool head. Don’t give in to demands (even if you pay, you may not get your files back) and turn off your computer immediately. Then telephone IT Help on x 3333 to explain what has happened and ask for advice.
For more information about dealing with suspicious emails and avoiding malware threats, check out the IT self-help advice on the staff intranet.
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