Ransomware is a type of malware that gets unwittingly downloaded on to a company’s, institution’s, government agency’s or individual person’s computer, which when downloaded encrypts the data of the victim. The victim is then told to either pay a ransom, generally in bitcoins within a short period of time, or the hacker will destroy the data.
In a new twist on the ransomware story, the computer system of the Seehotel Jaegerwirt hotel in Austria became infected with ransomware that controlled the electronic key system for the hotel which creates the cards used as keys for each hotel room preventing the hotel from issuing new keys. Faced with an inability of their newly arrived guests to access their rooms, the hotel quickly acquiesced to the demands of the hackers and paid a bitcoin ransom of approximately $1,600 to the hackers who then gave them back control over their systems. Interestingly, a spokesman for the hotel said that when the hotel rooms are refurbished in the future, the hotel intends to revert back to old-style door locks and actual keys in order to avoid problems such as this in the future.
Ransomware has become one of the most common and effective cybercrimes in the last year, successfully targeting individuals and a wide range of companies including law firms, accounting firms and even police departments. According to the United States Justice Department, ransomware attacks quadrupled last year to more than 4,000 per day. As big a problem as ransomware was last year, I predict it will be much worse in 2017.
The key to not becoming a victim of a ransomware attack is to prevent it in the first place. Generally, the malware is installed unwittingly by victims when they are lured through phishing and spear phishing emails to click on links infected with the malware. Never click on links in emails or text messages regardless of how legitimate they may appear until you have verified that it is legitimate. You should also install anti-phishing software.
It is also important to not only have anti-malware software installed on all of your electronic devices, but to make sure that you update the security software with the latest security patches and updates. Many victims of ransomware have fallen victim to strains of ransomware for which there are already security software available to thwart it. Finally, always back up your computer’s data daily, preferably in two different ways in order to protect your data in the event you do become a victim of ransomware.