What is it?
Ransomware is where a virus gets on your computer and encrypts all of your files. When you attempt to open a file, you can not do so since the file is encrypted with a key only the criminal knows.
What can be done to get my files back?
To get your files, you must either recover them from a backup, or pay the criminal a fee; generally a few hundred dollars for individuals and several thousand dollars to companies.
How can I prevent it?
Bottom line, you can’t. In February 2016, one of our clients who can be described as “paranoid” was distracted when she opened a seemingly valid e-mail, clicked on a link, and lost all of her files. This is a very knowledgeable user. Fortunately, she was working at home (not connected to the office network), and was able to reconstruct her data from memory and backups. She was running a Windows 10 computer, freshly updated, and with a good anti-virus program installed.
In June 2016, the University of Calgary was hit with ransomware and had to pay $20,000 Canadian Dollars (US $15,780) to recover their irretrievable information. (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36478650).
The criminals who do this, do it for a full time job. They are constantly seeking new ways to take over your computer. All you can do is ensure you have a copy of your data someplace else.
Of course, using social media, file sharing web sites, or visiting pornographic sites increases your chances of losing your data. However, even if you avoid those, you are still highly at risk. The risk has increased greatly over the past few months.
Worst Case Scenario?
The worst case scenario is that your computer is taken over while you are at work, connected to your companies network. In this case, the viruses can take over your computer, then begin working on your file servers. If that happens before an automatic backup, your backups can become corrupted also.
The only solution is to use a backup scheme where you have “versions”, multiple copies of your files based on when they were modified. Daily Data’s backup service, OwnCloud File Synchronization and Server Replication are some possible solutions to this problem.
If you are backing your data up yourself, onto a thumb drive or external hard disk, be sure you use multiple drives, rotating them daily, so even if your backup is corrupted, you can “go back” to the previous day’s backup.