Ransomware is the name for malware that once installed on a computer, often unwittingly through clicking on links in spear phishing emails, encrypts and locks all of the victim’s data.  The cybercriminal then threatens to destroy the data unless a bounty is paid.  Earlier this year we  experienced two massive ransomware attacks against millions of computers around the world.  These were the infamous WannaCry and Peta ransomware attacks.  Now the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina government has announced that although its computer systems had been hacked by cybercriminals demanding a $23,000 ransom, it would not pay the ransom. Fortunately, according to the County Manager, their data had been backed up and although it will be a time consuming process, they will be able to get their computers operating again shortly. County officials are saying that no personal information that could be exploited for purposes of identity theft was stolen in the attack.
Ransomware attacks as well as other types of malware attacks are most often spread  through phishing emails that lure unsuspecting people into clicking on malware infected links or downloading attachments tainted with malware.  As I am constantly reminding you, never click on links or download attachments until you have confirmed that they are legitimate.
You also should update all of your electronic devices with the latest security updates and patches as soon as they become available, preferably automatically.  Many past ransomware attacks exploited vulnerabilities for which patches had already been issued.
As for protecting yourself specifically from ransomware, you should back up all of your data on at least two different platforms, such as in the Cloud and on a portable hard drive. Companies and agencies which can afford to do this, should also use Whitelisting software which prevents the installation of any unauthorized computer software programs.
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