Hackers

Is Your Computer Being Held Hostage? What to Do.

Ransomware attacks happen more than you think. Back up your files; renew your security plan and take on those hackers.
Is Your Computer Being Held Hostage? What to Do.
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Guest Writer
Personal Security, Privacy and Identity Theft Expert
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Imagine this: You want to pull out a certain file from your computer, such as last quarter's profit and loss statement. However, instead of seeing this file, you see a message on your computer that says, "Computer compromise detected. To see the file, you must pay $500 to purchase software to decrypt the file."

Oh-oh . . . What you're seeing is a form of malware called ransomware -- and as we so often hear on the news, ransomware attacks happen more than you think. 

Ransomware information

So how did you get this ransomware? Hackers distribute this type of malware in a number of ways, the most common way being through email.

Related: 4 Ways Ransomware Companies Behave Like Legitimate Businesses

The first thing I ask people who suspect ransomware is whether they have recently clicked an email link. Even if one of those links looks legitimate, like that says, "Upgrade your browser software by clicking here," the effects can be devastating to your network and computer. Other methods hackers use include posing as law enforcement officials or as representatives of tech companies or government agencies. They also may prompt you to activate new software for data "protection."

So, what do you do?

Now that you know what ransomware is and does, you should focus on how to prevent it from infecting your computers and what to do if you actually get a ransomware infection.

First, never click on or pay anything when you see a ransomware notification or banner. Instead, wipe your drive clean and then restore your data. This is assuming you have your drive backed up. If not, you're going to lose a lot of valuable information.

Ransomware prevention

Though an attack like this can be devastating, it is possible to prevent an infection from occurring in the first place. Do this by following these tips:

  • Be suspicious. Consider making the firm decision to never open any attachment or click on any link from an email, even from a person you know.
  • Utilize a browser extension that shows which websites may be malicious.
  • Use both a firewall and security software.
  • Back up your data regularly, and shoot for doing this every day. Seek out services that will back up your data for up to 90 days and save several versions of your files. This will help your company to recover your files before ransomware sets in.

Related: Passwords Are Slowly Becoming a Thing of the Past

Ransomware usually attacks small businesses, and these sophisticated threats come from overseas. If your company becomes a victim of this type of attack, follow these tips:

  • Tell the criminal you plan on paying the fee, but you need time to get the money together.
  • Gather all of the correspondence.
  • You can contact the police, but they may not do anything. Instead, contact your web-hosting provider.
  • If you experience an extensive loss, consider contacting representatives at your nearest FBI branch, though they may do nothing, either.

Handling computer viruses

A computer virus is a file that copies itself, and then spreads to other devices. These threats often look like safe programs, but in reality, they are quite malicious. Symptoms of a computer virus include apps or programs that spontaneously open or close, and a computer that runs slowly.

In addition, you may hear that others are receiving emails from you that you never sent.

How to protect your company from viruses

Fortunately, you can protect your business from viruses in several ways:

  • Don't open any attachment, program or link found in an email unless it is something you are expecting. This includes messages from people you know. Hackers often send viruses by accessing a person's address book.
  • Don't use a public wifi connection unless you also use a VPN, or virtual private network -- or encryption software.
  • Keep security software up to date, and pair it with a firewall.
  • Use the most recent versions of your operating system and browser.
  • Use administrative rights on your computer to prevent unauthorized installations.
  • Train your staff on network and computer security. Make sure they also protect their personal devices.
  • Back up your data on the network. If all else fails and everything is destroyed, you will have this backup to fall back on. Use two methods, such as a cloud and on-site system, to be safe.

Related: Hackers Can Use Subtitles to Infect Your Devices

Though these tips are presented for businesses, you can apply them to home networks and computers, too. Anyone who uses a computer should understand how this malicious software works, and know how cyber thieves work. Only then should a network be trusted.
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