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What Is Ransomware?

You probably know that cybersecurity is important and we’re guessing you’ve heard about hackers and identity theft. You may even be using a password manager and have a piece of masking tape covering the camera on your laptop. But do you know what ransomware is and what to do if it strikes? Check out our guide.  

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What Is Ransomware? 

Normal hacking involves taking private information from your computer, accounts and/or servers. That information may then be leaked to the press, used to make fraudulent purchases or leveraged in an attempt to blackmail you. Emails, photos, credit card numbers and banking information are frequent targets of hackers. Ransomware takes a slightly different approach. Rather than simply accessing your files, ransomware holds them hostage by encrypting the files and asking you to pay for the decryption key.

If you’ve been the victim of a ransomware virus you’ll turn on your computer to find a red notice informing you of the fact that your files have been encrypted and are being held for ransom. You’ll be instructed to pay money to the hackers and informed that if you don’t pay up your files will be publicized, corrupted and/or wiped. If you’re a victim of locking ransomware as opposed to encryption ransomeware, your hard drive will be locked and you’ll be unable to use your computer while the virus is in place. In either case, even if you get your files back they may be damaged.

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What Can Be Done About Ransomware?

What Is Ransomware

Like other computer viruses, ransomware can hit your computer when you click on a link in a phishing email or download something you shouldn’t. If you follow the usual protocols for cybersecurity you should be pretty safe from ransomware. That means installing antivirus software and keeping it updated. It also means being safe about the links you click and the files you download.

If you find yourself the victim of ransomware, you may be able to purchase a solution through an antivirus company. If the ransomware that hits your computer is a known strain there may be a ready-made antidote you can buy and install. But if you’ve been a victim of locking ransomware you’ll need to have access to another computer so you can download the antidote or decryption key and transfer it to the infected computer via USB stick.

Of course, if all your computer files are backed up, ransomware won’t be as much of an issue. Sure, you want to be able to use your computer and you wouldn’t want to have to shell out for a new laptop in the case of a ransomware infection you couldn’t solve, but the risk of losing all your files will be nil if you’re diligent about backing up to the cloud or an external hard drive.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Protect Your Child From Identity Theft

Bottom Line

What Is Ransomware

It’s a good idea for everyone to back up their computer files and take steps to protect themselves from viruses and ransomware. If you run a small business – or a business of any size, really – these security measures are particularly important. You want to keep your customers’ information secure so that you maintain their trust – and your good reputation. Ransomware peddlers often target businesses in hopes of a bigger payout than they would get from an individual. If you don’t already have a cybersecurity plan in place, now is a good time to get one.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/weerapatkiatdumrong, ©iStock.com/daoleduc, ©iStock.com/Mamuka Gotsiridze

Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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