Remember malware and scareware?
Malware, short for malicious software, is software designed to secretly access your computer system without your informed consent. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, crimeware, most rootkits, and other malicious and unwanted software.
Scareware is scam software of limited or no benefit, such as a message that convinces you that a virus has infected your computer and suggesting that you download (and pay for) fake antivirus software to remove it.
Well, just when you thought it was safe, now there’s something called ransomware, which PC security experts say just might be a much bigger problem that both malware and scareware combined.
And according to them, PC owners will be dealing with all kinds of ransomware attacks for the next few years.
So What is Ransomware?
Ransomware infects your PC when you visit a website that contains a virus. In some cases, you don’t even need to unknowingly download an infected file; you simply have to visit a compromised website.
As soon as you do, messages start popping up on your screen supposedly from the FBI or local law enforcement accusing you of visiting illegal downloading sites or pornography sites and demanding that you pay a fine.
If you are infected with ransomware, you are completely locked out of your computer. Even worse, the hacker group that created the ransomware has access to all of your files, including your passwords and credit card information.
Some of the latest ransomware even can hijack your computer’s webcam to give the illusion that law enforcement is watching and demanding that that users pay the fine within 48 hours or face criminal charges.
How Ransomware Was Created
Ransomware was created by shadowy groups of Eastern European hackers in 2009 and it has quickly become a booming business. One criminal organization was able to extort $400,000 a day from their victims. While the scourge began in Europe, it’s just beginning to make its way to the United States.
Security experts say that many victims simply pay the fine because they are embarrassed. However, users very rarely get their computer unlocked even after paying the fine.
Law enforcement around the globe are doing their best to identity the groups behind the ransomware menace. So far, they have identified 16 ransomware gangs. But even if they find these gangs, convictions are rare. These gangs are skilled at avoiding detection and destroying evidence.
What You Can Do to Fight Ransomware
First of all, security experts emphasize that you should never pay the fine. Even if you pay the fine, your computer is rarely unlocked.
Some security software vendors, such as Symantec and Sophos, offer solutions for unlocking machines infected with ransomware.
Another thing you can do is make sure your firewall and antivirus software is robust and up to date.
But probably the best thing if your PC is infected is to go to a local computer repair shop. However, you may lose all of your files if they are not backed up properly.