The fundamentals of ransomware are pretty simple, but the stress it causes when ransomware hits is anything but simple. Your best defense is to arm yourself with information, including how to prevent it and what to do if it infects your electronics.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a scam that targets your information. Rather than steal it, as with identity theft, the criminal holds it hostage by preventing you from accessing files on your computer or even shutting down entire systems. The crook sends you instructions on decrypting these files after he or she has been paid via cyber currency like Bitcoins.

How does it get into my computer?

Like many tech problems, the common culprits include visiting shady websites and/or engaging with phishing emails. The attempts to infect your computer—via an advertisement or seemingly-legitimate inquiries from friends and large companies—get more creative (and more believable) every day.

What do I do if ransomware strikes?

Becoming infected with ransomware is very scary. And the messages are designed to elicit as much fear as possible in targeted victims. Experts advise that you:

  • Don’t pay the ransom. But you want your information unlocked, right? Authorities at the federal level counsel victims that, just as the government doesn’t negotiate with the bad guys in real life, you shouldn’t do so with cyber criminals. That encourages thieves to re-target you (yep, it happens all the time) or someone else.
  • Hope there’s a decryptor to help. Companies have created programs that can decrypt some files hit by relatively unsophisticated ransomware. If the ransomware is cutting-edge, though, you’re probably out of luck. And because there’s risk in applying the wrong decryptor to your files, it’s best to seek assistance from an IT expert.
  • Clean it up. In the event that you don’t get your files back (sigh…), you can still clean up the damage to avoid future threats from the same malware. Either you or a paid expert can download a program that essentially scrubs the ransomware from your computer.

How can I prevent it?

  • Bookmark your sites. Some people land on websites that infect their computers by mistyping the web address of a legitimate site. To prevent that scenario, use the bookmark function to take you straight to trusted sites.
  • Verify emails. Bad emails can lead to a host of problems, so learning to sift out the dangerous ones is crucial. To prevent ransomware attacks, always check the sender’s address against a valid contact list before opening. And triple check before you click on or download anything contained in an email.
  • Security is supreme. Ideally, you’ll have layers of security that work together to catch malware at different points. At a minimum, make sure your security programs filter spam away from your “regular” email and are always up to date. Consider commercial-grade systems for even better protection.
  • Pay attention to your computer. If you’re diligent about monitoring your system, you may notice signs that it’s been infected. The problem is that some of those signs—like a slowdown in operating speed—might not seem all that unusual. If you have a bad feeling, immediately shut down your computer and disconnect it from the internet. This “paralyzes” the ransomware, but you’ll still need to install a security program to sweep it.

If your financial information has been compromised, F&M Bank may be able to help. We offer multiple resources to customers who’ve experienced cyber fraud. 

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