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What is Ransomware?

By , Anna Attkisson - Source: Toms IT Pro

Ransomware is a particularly evil and criminal form of malware. It gets into your system through phishing emails, pop-ups or affiliate networks, and then encrypts your files. Then the bad guys demand money, usually in the form of bitcoins, to unlock those files. Recently these criminal rings have turned their attention to the business world, where the paydays are only getting bigger.

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According to a recent report from antivirus maker Kaspersky Labs, the number of corporate users attacked with crypto-ransomware has increased more than six times int he last year, going from 131,000 victims to 718,000 in 12 months. Most of those companies are small to medium-sized businesses. Previously, ransomware hackers tended to target home users, and individuals still make up the vast majority of those targeted.

The most common forms of ransomware include Teslacrypt (shut down in May) and CTB-Locker (demands payment in 96 hours or it will permanently delete files. A few more are on the rise, including Scatter, Craki, CryptoWall, Shade, Shark, More, Aura and Locky. One scheme, known as Cerber, has rolled out Ransomware as a Service (RaaS), which reportedly made $195,000 in July. Just weeks after WannaCry hit, the world is facing a new threat that started in the Ukraine and has spread to 64 countries. Petya, as it's being called, has never been seen before. And it's currently ongoing. 

Kaspersky recommends victims refuse to submit to demands, because it emboldens the criminals. It also says companies should regularly backup files onto their own servers and to the cloud to protect their data. You'll want to keep updated your most widely-used programs (Flash, Java, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Windows and Office), and stay on top of security patch releases. 

Some security software companies are working on products that will detect an attempt by a new application to encrypt files. It will then create a back-up copy of your files. But while those are still in development, common sense is still your best defense. Don't click on unknown links, and if an mp3 file has a .exe extension, it's not music; it's malware.

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