Cybersecurity is a growing concern for many professionals. Stolen identities, phishing, and computer viruses are some of the more common dangers most people are familiar with, but ransomware should also be on your radar. This new trend in cyber crime is a serious concern for anyone who uses the Internet. Here’s what you need to know about the hottest digital scam.

What it is

Ransomware is a cyber crime where hackers essentially hold your digital data (files, photos, videos, etc.) for ransom in hopes that you will pay their fee (or “ransom”) rather than risk losing your precious data. It’s a creative take on cyber crime where trends have been moving in the direction of large scale global malware campaigns. It’s important to remember that small scale crimes are still a concern and you need to do what you can to keep your data and your devices protected.

Ransomware in review

The first known version of ransomware made its debut back in 2013. A virus called CryptoLocker hit the Web hard and fast, such that it was difficult for businesses and individuals to realize what they were dealing with at first. This type of virus locks hard drives and demands cash from its victims in a digital hold up. Infected users are left with the option to either pay or lose their files. In the beginning, the first iterations of ransomware were able to infect tens of thousands of computers in just a few days. It utilized established virus networks and standard phishing links to gain access to sensitive files and simply make them inaccessible until users paid the ransom.

It appeared that once ransoms were paid, hackers did in fact release the files as promised, thus perpetuating the effectiveness of this type of cyber attack. Soon after, both mobile security firms and mobile phone owners started reporting similar attacks on their mobile devices. It became obvious that this form of malware was a good way for savvy criminals to make a little money.

How to protect yourself

As is the case with many forms of cyber attacks, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and your files. First and foremost, be careful what email attachments you open and what links you click on. If something looks fishy, it probably is. There are a number of major antivirus vendors who have created a fix for specific types of ransomware. But by relying on that fact alone, you run the risk that whatever form of malware infects your device does not have an exact antidote, particularly because hackers are creating new viruses all the time.

The obvious solution is to back up all your valuable files and data. This is the vulnerability that ransomware exploits. If you have your files backed up on a separate device, then it doesn’t matter if a virus makes a copy of those files unavailable to you. Backing up files on a separate (not manually or digitally connected to your main device) is the only way to make sure hackers don’t gain access to the files you value most.

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