How much are your files worth?

Imagine – you’re working on your computer or checking your Facebook wall and suddenly a popup shows on your screen claiming all of your files have been locked down and won’t be accessible unless you pay a $300 ransom. You check your family pictures, your resume, your work presentations and you realize it’s true; each file can no longer be opened. What would you do?

While this scenario might sound like something out of a James Bond movie, it’s actually the story of a new type of vicious mal-ware called CryptoLocker that can hold peoples’ files hostage. Typically, the malicious software installs itself onto computers after someone opens an attachment from an email that appears to come from a trustworthy source, like a tracking notice from a shipping company.  The infection then encrypts everything from your hard drive and in your shared folders. The pop up then appears, explaining that your files have been locked with a special code that you have to pay to get, and you have four days to pay $300 (usually only accepted via Bitcoin). If you don’t pay, the code gets destroyed and your files can never be accessed again.   

Unfortunately, once your files are encrypted, there are no other options for regaining access aside from paying the money. However, you can do things to prevent getting attacked by malware or to lessen the impact if it were to happen to you. Above all things, you should always back up your files, and back them up often. Consider an external hard drive that can be disconnected from your computer once all your files are saved, or uploading your information into a cloud data storage system that is not directly connected to your PC.

Of course, the best thing you can do to protect your computer from attacks like these is by practicing safe online habits. Never open attachments if you don’t know what they are, even if they appear to come from a trusted source (UPS has a list of fraudulent emails that mimic their name and logo, but could actually infect your computer). Always use a popup blocker and avoid clicking on links or messages that appear in popup ads. Keep your computer’s software up-to-date and make sure you have protective anti-virus software installed that will block out malicious software like CryptoLockers. If you’re interested in other ways to protect your computer, check out this great video with tips to fight mal-ware before it infects your PC. These smart practices can not only protect your files, but protect your online identity and information! 

Like this article? Learn more tech tools in our article "Tech Tips: Protecting Your Personal Information." 

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