What is ransomware and how to protect your precious files from it

What would it mean if you lost all of your personal documents, such as your family photos, research or business records? How much would you pay to get them back? There’s a burgeoning form of cybercrime that hinges on the answers to these questions.

You have probably heard of viruses and malware. These dangerous pieces of software can make their way into your computer and wreak havoc. Malware authors are intent on stealing your data and disrupting the proper functioning of your digital devices.

Then there is ransomware. This is crafted by cyber-criminals for extorting data from innocent users, and is rapidly becoming a threat to individuals, small business and corporate users alike.

Unlike malware, ransomware does not steal data. Rather, it holds it captive by encrypting files and then displaying a ransom note on the victim’s screen. It demands payment for the cyber-extortion and threatens obliteration of data otherwise.

While the concept of ransomware has existed for more than 20 years, it wasn’t until 2012 that several key technological advances aligned and allowed it to flourish.

Now ransomware has evolved. It combines file encryption, it uses “dark” networks to conceal the attacker, and uses (or, rather, misuses) cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to prevent law enforcement from tracing the ransom payment back to the attacker’s den.

For a small upfront cost and with low risk of getting caught, ransomware developers can net good returns: industry estimates range from 1,000% to 2,000% return on investment. Read more

Zubair Baig and Nickolai Hampton - The Conversation - 18 Feb 2016

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