SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A recent report from a team of U.S. cybersecurity experts says 2016 will be the year ransomware holds America hostage.

That’s a scary prediction. Ransomware has been around for decades, and whether this is fact or hyperbole, there has definitely been a recent spike in attacks. And it’s not just data at big companies being taken hostage. Individuals are getting hit more and more. Hackers usually demand about $500 or less, but ransoms can go much higher, even into the thousands of dollars, in some cases. Last year the FBI estimated ransonware hackers extorted more than $24 million — and got away with it.

Basically, there are two types of ransomware: Locker ransomware locks your computer but leaves the files intact; Crypto ransomware encrypts data and filesystems on your computer making them impossible to access, although you can still use the computer.

Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn to spot ransomware and protect your computer before you become a victim. Here are a few tips to help keep you from getting taken hostage.
 

  • 1. Practice basic cyber hygiene. Backing up your computer on an external drive after you work should be as instinctive as washing your hands before you eat. Internal backups are of no use when your computer is being held hostage;
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  • 2. Resist clicking on ads. Even on trusted sites, adware may be infected with malicious software. Understand that certain heavily trafficked websites are more prone to malicious adware – porn, horoscopes, celebrity gossip sites and the like are often teeming with malicious spyware masquerading as ads that will infect your computer.
    (Thinkstock)

    (Thinkstock)

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  • 3. Look out for of unsolicited phishing emails. Always validate the sender before clicking on any links or URLs within an email or text message. Resist the urge to open attachments, and never click on the links automatically. Suspicious emails may look like they come from familiar addresses – bills, tax and legal notifications, resumes, even terse looking notes from friends and coworkers. When you receive links from ANY source LOOK AT IT CAREFULLY. Hover your mouse over it. If the URL looks suspicious don’t open it.
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  • 4. Don’t be a victim of a ‘drive-by.’ Ransomware criminals target sites hosting adult content, pirated digital media, free first-run movies or software downloads, and video streaming. When you ‘drive-by’ and download content from these sites, you download malware as well.
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  • 5. Beware of exciting or scary pop-ups. “You have won a such and such (something too good to be true)” or “Your computer is at risk!” These are quick ways to entice you to click on a pop-up that will infect your computer. You are so excited, or startled by the pop-up, you instinctively click on it, before considering the consequences.
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    (Wikimedia Commons)

    (Wikimedia Commons)


     

  • 6. Your social media accounts are easy targets. Facebook and Twitter accounts can be targeted and compromised and malicious attachments and URLs are sent to everyone in your address book. Suddenly your account is sending out friend requests to people you already know (or vice-versa). Usually this can be solved by changing passwords. In the worst case scenarios, you may need to close your account.
     
  • 7. Remember: Use strong passwords. Change them often.
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  • 8. Go preemptive and install antivirus software. Some programs are free. There are many good ones out there but they become quickly outdated because malicious threats are proliferating so rapidly. Once you zero in on a trusted anti-virus resource, check back often for updates and install them. But remember, skilled attackers are determined to get around antivirus detection and their programs often do, so it’s no guarantee.
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    CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.

     

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