Ransomware

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April 24, 2017 // Security, Technology, Tips



Bad guys using ransoms to extort money from innocent people isn’t just something you see in the movies anymore.  Every day, people’s computers and everything on them are being held hostage unless a ransom is paid.  This threat isn’t targeted at just businesses, it is very opportunistic, and infecting anyone it can. 

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the data on an infected computer.  All of your precious family photos, videos and important documents, once encrypted, will no longer be accessible without the encryption key – which you can get only if you pay the amount the extortionist demands.  This could be hundreds or thousands of dollars.  What is your information worth to you?

Fortunately there is a better way to protect yourself than paying the ransom.  By taking a few simple steps, you can avoid falling victim to this money making scheme:

  • Back up your important files to a secondary location – Online Cloud Storage and USB attached hard drives are two great ways to back up what matters to you most in a second secure location.  Don’t worry about program files as they can be restored from the source.  Tax files, photos, videos, Word or Excel documents, are the types of files you want to ensure are backed up to a second location.
  • DO NOT keep your backup storage attached to your computer – Some systems allow you the ability to automate the backup of files to a secondary location.  Be careful, the ransomware is often sophisticated enough to encrypt your backup drives if it sees them and has access.
  • Think twice before clicking on links or downloading attachments – Links or attachments within Phishing emails and social media sites like Facebook could be a trap that once sprung, sets into motion the chain of events caused by ransomware.  Be very suspicious and ask yourself if it is really worth it to see whatever it is someone sent you.

If you become a victim of ransomware and you followed the steps above to back up your important files to a secure second location, don’t pay the ransom.  Take your computer into a local reputable computer repair shop to have it restored and then copy your important files back onto your computer from your back up.

Law enforcement doesn’t recommend paying the ransom, although it’s up to you to determine whether the risks and costs of paying are worth the possibility of getting your files back.  If you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back.  In fact, agreeing to pay signals to criminals that you haven’t backed up your files.  Knowing this, they could increase the ransom price – and may delete or deny access to your files anyway.  Even if you get your files back, they may be corrupted and you might be a target for other scams.

Check back for more information on the next Mercantile Bank Security Minute.


Have you ever received one of these bogus tech support calls?  The fraudster calls claiming to be from technical support at Microsoft, Apple, or other well-known companies. They say that they’ve detected viruses or malware on your computer to trick you into paying for software you don’t need or worse yet, convince you to give them remote access to your computer to fix the problem.

These fraudsters take advantage of your concerns about viruses and other threats.  They know most computer users have heard over and over that it’s important to install and maintain security software.  But the purpose behind this elaborate scam isn’t to protect you and your computer; it’s to make money.

Once they have gained your trust, they may:

  • Ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable.
  • Try to enroll you in worthless computer maintenance or warranty program.
  • Ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services – or services you could get elsewhere for free.
  • Trick you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data, like user names and passwords to online financial sites, your email account, and more.
  • Direct you to websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information.

Regardless of the tactics they use, they have one purpose; it’s to make money.

If you get one of these calls, HANG UP!  Microsoft, Apple or any other company will not call you proactively in this way. The caller will likely try to create a sense of urgency or use high-pressure tactics to get you to do what they want; Just Hang Up!

If you believe you may have been a victim of one of these scam calls, don’t panic.  Instead:

  • Unplug your computer from the internet.
  • Take your computer to a local reputable business that specializes in fixing computers; let them know what happened.
  • Once your computer has been repaired, or via another computer/device, change your passwords on all online financial and email sites you use and any other passwords you gave out.
  • If you paid for bogus services with a credit card, call your credit card provider and ask to reverse the charges.  Check your statements for any other charge’s you didn’t make, and ask to reverse those too.

Check back for more information on the next Mercantile Bank Security Minute.