Tech Tip: How to Foil ‘Ransomware’

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USAF graphic by Adam Butterick.

Not too long ago, the CryptoLocker “ransomware” virus was all over the news, infecting more than 250,000 computers in its first 100 days of release. At least that’s the number reported; the real number was probably much higher.

The threat was fairly straightforward: Pay us or we’ll delete all your data.

Ransomware like CryptoLocker works by encrypting your files to prevent you from using or accessing them. After your files are compromised, the hackers behind the attack pop up a demand screen asking for payment — $400 to $2,000 — within a set time frame — say, 72 hours or three days — in order for you to get the key to decrypt your own files. The last CryptoLocker virus forced many business owners to lose data or pay up, since there was no other way to decrypt their files.

Obviously, the best way to foil a ransomware attack is to be incredibly diligent about IT security. But with hundreds of thousands of new attacks being created daily, there are no guarantees you won’t get infected.

Therefore, it’s critical to maintain a full daily backup of your data off-site. Then, if you do get whacked with ransomware, you can recover all your files without having to pay a thin dime. And don’t forget to back up off-site PCs, laptops, remote offices and third-party software data stored in cloud apps.

Alan Edwards, CISM, is chief information officer at Computerware, Inc., in Vienna, Virginia.

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