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Ransomware is a growing and lucrative attack in the cybercrime market. The FBI reported that known incidents of ransomware numbered nearly 2,500 in 2015, equaling approximately $1.6 million in losses by individuals and businesses. And as Intego predicted earlier this year, 2016 has become the year in which ransomware is treated with the caution it warrants. Most cybersecurity companies expect the number of victims to grow this year.

If you’re unfamiliar with how ransomware works, or how to free the files it holds hostage, read on to learn more.

Why Ransomware Is So Dangerous

Cybercriminals use ransomware to encrypt data and other digital information, such as Dropbox files, and hold them for ransom. If you pay, you will hopefully get your decrypted data back. If you don’t, the information remains locked and may eventually be sold on the black market or used for other nefarious purposes.

Many individuals and business owners choose to pay the ransom. For them, access to the data supersedes any other concerns—and they may not have the skill or money to rebuild their data management systems. They need the information to keep business operations moving, prevent lost opportunities, and mitigate reputation damage.

Elements Contributing to Ransomware’s Growth

Some of the struggle to prevent ransomware arises from how simple it is to implement. Hackers insert malicious code into anything: links, attachments, software downloads, and endpoints like Dropbox or a server. Also, when companies and businesses don’t regularly update their cybersecurity software, they are more obvious ransomware targets.

Another difficulty lies in how easy it is to hide activity. Hackers often require victims to pay in Bitcoin (such as the case with KeRanger) because it’s anonymous, fast, reliable, and somewhat difficult to trace. The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, for example, paid 40 Bitcoins—equivalent to $17,000—to their attackers. To date, the criminals remain unidentified.

These factors should not cause you to despair. Rather, they should catalyze a security strategy that encompasses both prevention and recovery. If your Dropbox files have been taken hostage by a ransomware attack, use the following advice to free them.

Original story by Intego.


How to beat Ransomware

Picture this: You’ve spent the last few weeks working on a tribute video for a friend’s 30th wedding anniversary. You collected photos and video clips and edited them together, laying over a soundtrack of their favorite songs. It was a real labor of love.

When you finally finish the project, you go to copy the file onto a DVD and—what the?—a strange message pops up.

“Unfortunately, the files on this computer have been encrypted. You have 96 hours to submit payment to receive the encryption key, otherwise your files will be permanently destroyed.”

You’ve been hit with ransomware.

You didn’t back up the anniversary video. In fact, you haven’t backed up any of your files in months. What do you do?

Unfortunately, when it comes to ransomware, once your files are encrypted, there’s not much you can do—besides cut your losses or pay up. And even if you do pay up, there’s a chance you won’t get your files back, so you’re out the files and your cash.

That’s why it’s so important to prevent ransomware attacks from happening in the first place.

Ransomware prevention
The first step in ransomware prevention is to invest in awesome cybersecurity. Start with an antivirus with active monitoring and layer on other applications that are specifically designed to thwart advanced malware attacks such as ransomware.

Next, as much as it may pain you, you need to create secure backups of your data on a regular basis. You can purchase USBs or an external hard drive where you can save new or updated files—just be sure to physically disconnect the devices from your computer after backing up, otherwise they can become infected with ransomware, too. Rotating a second set of backups weekly is suggested.

Finally, stay informed. One of the most common ways that computers are infected with ransomware is through social engineering. Educate yourself on how to detect phishing campaigns, suspicious websites, and other scams. And above all else, exercise common sense. If it seems suspect, it probably is.