RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s an electronic kidnapping attempt that’s netting criminals tens of billions of dollars a year worldwide say, according to cybersecurity experts.
It’s called a ransomware attack. It can affect the computer systems of individuals, small local businesses, and even government agencies.
By now, most of us know criminals can hack computer systems. Those attacks usually involve data breaches where info is surreptitiously stolen.
But, what happens when a system is held hostage by criminals who knowingly acknowledge what they are doing?
It’s a growing problem potentially affecting every person or organization that uses a computer system.
Ransomware isn’t your typical computer virus.
Criminals inject code into a computer to seize control of it while they demand money to release it, thus the “ransom.”
People can still be victimized even after the ransom is paid.
“There’s never a guarantee you’ll get your data back,” said Craig Petronella.
Craig Petronella is a cybersecurity expert and #1 Amazon best selling author of several books on cybersecurity and ransomware. You can sign up for his Ransomware alerts as well as tips to stop criminals.
“They have scripts they run. They are always scanning networks looking for low hanging fruit,” he said.
Ransomware attacks are exploding. A report from Emsisoft finds ransomware attacks were up 41 percent last year.
Among those hit were:
- 764 healthcare providers
- 89 universities, colleges, and school districts
- 113 state and municipal governments
Locally, Orange County was victimized last March for the third time in six years. In the March incident, systems run by the sheriff’s office, registrar of deeds, and library were all affected, potentially exposing personal data of scores of individuals.
So how do you protect yourself from a ransomware attack that goes after records with your personal info?
“Limit the amount of information you put online and limit how you check the email you’re clicking on,’’ said Petronella. “Unsubscribe to things you don’t need or want and be careful about what you are opening and where you are going on the internet.”
It’s not just big corporations that are ransomware victims. Small businesses are also an attractive target.
“A common myth is, ‘I’m too small. They won’t hack me,’” said Petronella. “Absolutely they will. They’re lazy.”
There are precautions to take for doctors, accountants, and others who run a small business with a computer system filled with sensitive info.
“You want a backup system that typically encrypts data that is also disconnected from your network,” said Petronella.
Also, make sure to have several layers of computer security protection. The more the better.
For individuals, protection can be as simple as making sure to install updates to computer operating systems as soon as possible. Those updates often contain security patches aimed at blocking the ways ransomware attackers to get into a system.
And if you are victimized by a ransomware attack, report it to the federal government. It is a crime.
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