What is ransomware and what can I do to possibly prevent it from hitting me and my family? How prevalent is ransomware and should I be concerned?

If you and your loved ones are not aware of the prevalence of ransomware let this be your first “gentle” warning about its existence. This is not a fear based piece of writing hoping to send the readers into full panic mode, rather consider it informative and hopefully helpful to those whom are not informed of this security threat.

What is ransomware? This is a malicious form of software that is designed to “lock” your computer and try to convince the owner that the only way to unlock it is to pay a sum of money. As the “ransom” in the name suggests, the typical “threat” to the computer owner is that if they do not pay the sum of money then their personal files, activity will be made public.

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The millions of dollars that unsuspecting victims of these cyber criminals have lost by simply responding to their demands once the attack hits their computer is saddening.

Typically a message shows up on your monitor, and it may even include an audio recording as well, demanding a sum of money to unlock your computer and to prevent the criminals from sending your information to who knows where.

If you are not certain whether this threat is legitimate, let’s take a look at some recent experience. When a large percentage of Microsoft Office 365 users were targeted in June of this year (2016), Microsoft was quick to act. And how many of us utilize their software?

This attack was apparently not limited to 365 users yet it demonstrates the growth of these cyber criminals and their use of ransomware. The history of these types of attacks goes back to the mid 1990’s with the largest growth arising in the mid 2000’s to now.

The Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez cited Justice Department data during the FTC’s Fall Convention Series that demonstrates upwards of 4,000 ransomware attacks daily since January 1st, 2016.

If you find yourself a victim of a ransomware attack, what should you do? First off, do not pay the ransom. Secondly, you will want to contact the FBI as soon as possible as they are actively investigating these cyber criminals and are making great strides at taking them down.

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What can I do to protect my identity, my security, my life online? Look for ransomware protection software that has been recognized with credible awards and certifications. Research for yourself the management and security teams with the company and look for proven track records in the industry.

We pay our bills, schedule appointments, work, receive direct deposits, virtually our whole day to day lives revolve around online transactions. Which means, of course, that our lives are online for the cyber criminals to steal. By taking proactive action to protect what you have worked so hard for will pay dividends in your peace of mind and overall security.

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