Don’t Let Your PC Be Taken Hostage by Cyber Crimes! You’re happily working away on your computer, making good progress. Then you click on a link or email attachment and the screen freezes. A message flashes up, saying the PC has been locked and your data is no longer accessible until you pay a ransom.
Computer infection with “ransomware”, as it’s called, is one of the fastest-growing cyber-crimes of recent years, affecting not only home users but also businesses and other organizations, large and small. Cyber security experts say 2017 is heading to be the worst-ever year for the crime, which often leaves victims with seemingly little option but to pay up. Thousands of new infections are being reported every day. And even when victims pay (usually the ransom is between $50 and $200), there’s no guarantee the crooks will provide the unlocking code. And even if they do, they may also steal confidential information from PCs that can then be used for identity theft.
However, there’s a lot you can do to avoid falling victim to cyber crimes. And, even if you do get caught-out, there are often ways of getting your computer back in business without paying the ransom.
Here’s what to do:
- Make sure you have reputable security software installed on your computer and update it regularly (ideally, automatically). This will often stop ransomware infections from getting onto your PC in the first place.
- Keep all your other software apps and programs up to date. This especially applies to your Internet browser. Criminals are quick to identify weaknesses in any program but producers are usually just as quick to respond with more secure versions. If you don’t update, your software could be open to attack.
- Be wary about clicking links and attachments in emails from people or organizations you don’t know. Use the same caution on links inside unfamiliar websites.
- Make full and regular backups of both your computer operating system and your documents and other data. That way, if your machine is frozen and locked, you can reinstate your back-ups, losing little or none of your valuable data.
What if you get caught and don’t have a back-up? First, don’t panic. Shutdown your computer, disconnect it from the Internet and then restart it. In some cases, that might be enough.
If it’s still frozen, consider getting outside, professional help. There are a number of fixes for some of the ransomware currently circulating and calling in an expert might get you back in business.
If all else fails, you may have to consider paying up. That depends on how valuable your data is. But don’t use a payment method that involves an account number the crooks could hijack and use again.
Once you’re in the clear, use security software — or an expert — to thoroughly clean or reset your computer.
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