How to prevent being held hostage by ransomware

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – You open the wrong e-mail and now your life is in the hands of a complete stranger. Ransomware attacks can be devastating for their victims, carrying with them not only thousands of dollars in costs but also stress and trauma. They’re one of the three most common types of malware. Just last week, at least 20 Texas government agencies were hit by ransomware. Twenty-two of the cities hit have since recovered. The good news is there are some solutions out there for victims and some tricks you can use to prevent being a victim yourself.

How does ransomware work?

A virus is connected to either an email attachment or to a website. When you open the attachment or visit the infected website, malware is downloaded onto your computer. This malware then encrypts your data and locks you out of your computer. Then, you’ll get a message telling you to pay either by credit card or bitcoin if you want your computer and data back. Should you pay? The FBI says don’t and that paying doesn’t even mean you’ll get your data back.

No More Ransom and ID Ransomware

Thankfully, there are solutions if you become a victim. In 2016, Europol teamed up with police in the Netherlands and the anti-virus company McAfee to form No More Ransom. No More Ransom is a free project that has helped over two-hundred thousand victims and prevented $108 million from going to criminals.

ID Ransomware is a free service created by programmer Michael Gillespie in 2016. The project received the 2017 FBI Director’s Leadership award for efforts to stop ransomware.

According to Emsisoft representative Brett Callow, both projects work the same way: Victims can upload a file encrypted by the malware and/or the ransom note itself. They then analyze the submitted files, looking for patterns matched to known ransomware. If they find a match, you’re then pointed to a free tool developed by a known security company, such as Emsisoft, Kaspersky, Avast and McAfee, that can get your data back. But that’s only if they find a match, a lot of times they can’t.

Preventing ransomware

Callow says the best way to avoid ransomware attacks is to:

  • Be careful with e-mail attachments, even if they come from a trusted source.
  • Keep your computer and apps up to date.
  • Don’t use pirated software.
  • And back up your data by saving older versions of your computer, called versioning. That way, if you get hit by ransomware, you can easily switch to a non encrypted version of your computer and have your life back at your fingertips.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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