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Safety & security

What to do if you get a ransomware email – and how to protect yourself before it happens

Online scams have been around since the internet entered the public space. When online shopping and surfing were new, people didn’t consider fraud and crooks quickly moved their craft into the digital space.

We can now access the internet from anywhere thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops. While convenient, this has only helped to spread crooked activity. With nearly 2 million apps in Apple’s App Store, some are inevitably fraudulent. Tap or click to see how bad apps have scammed iPhone users out of nearly $50 million.

Ransomware is a particularly nasty bit of criminal behavior. It’s been all over the news lately, with high-profile attacks hitting the U.S. meatpacking industry and a fuel pipeline. We’ll show you how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

1. A growing problem

Nobody is safe from ransomware. Hackers employ these tactics against individuals, small and large companies and even governments. Tap or click here to hear Kim Komando’s take on the dangers to the country from ransomware.

According to cybersecurity research firm Bitdefender, ransomware attacks increased by 485% from 2019 to 2020.

In early May, Colonial Pipeline was forced to shut down 5,500 miles of pipeline to contain a breach. Affecting a potential 45% of the East Coast’s fuel. Tap or click here to learn more about this massive attack.

A ransomware attack typically comes in the form of malware that gets into your devices and holds your files and data hostage. The scammer then demands compensation to release the information.

2. Ransomware prevention and common sense security practices

You are not completely helpless. The following tips can help you defend against ransomware and other cyberattacks.

  • Bad passwords are gifts to scammers. With the wide availability of password managers built right into your browser, you have no excuse to be lazy about your login info. All of your accounts should have unique and strong passwords. Don’t share it with anyone, but if you must (let’s say your employer is requesting the information), confirm this through direct texts, calls, or email. A scammer can impersonate your boss. Tap or click here to see what people are doing wrong when it comes to passwords.
  • Don’t click links or open files from suspicious emails, including PDFs, Excel spreadsheets or Word docs. You should also disable macros. Hackers can use malicious macros to infiltrate your computer.
  • Backing up your files is a no-brainer. You can store them in a secure place by backing them up to a cloud backup service. Tap or click here for three features to look for in a backup service.
  • Keep your webcam covered when you’re not using it. Scammers can secretly record video of you and threaten to release it into the wild. A webcam cover made our list of eight security products everyone should own.
  • Keep your computer and software updated. Set your browser and OS to update automatically to take the guesswork out, but still, check in to make sure you have the latest releases. Antivirus protection is crucial, and this needs to be kept up to date as well. Tap or click here for details on the best antivirus option around.

3. What to do if you’re targeted by a ransomware attack

Let’s say you receive an email threatening ransomware. Don’t panic!

The good news is that it is probably not ransomware. Ransomware attacks lock your screen to prevent you from taking any action. So if you avoid clicking links or opening attachments included inside the threatening email and delete it immediately, you’re most likely fine.

If you receive a bad email on a work device, report it to your IT department ASAP. They will know what steps to take next. Don’t compromise your job by making any mistakes.

If your personal device gets infected with ransomware, take a picture of the locked screen with your phone in case you need to access the information later.

Don’t pay the ransom. The FBI recommends never paying criminals to unlock your device that’s been encrypted with ransomware. They are, in fact, criminals. You can’t trust that they will release your files, even if you pay.

If the worse does happen, file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) if you believe you’ve been a victim of any internet crime. This is where a photo of the scam email would come in handy.

You have evidence of the email. You didn’t click on any files or links. You reported it to the proper authorities as needed. Now delete the email and move on, but don’t let down your guard. Tap or click here for more tips on defending your computer from ransomware.

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