Over the last year or so a new and vicious set of viruses has appeared to threaten your PC. Typically, they arrive in your email inbox in the form of a .zip or .doc / .docx file attached to an email that may look as if it has come from someone you know. If you open the attachment, a program runs that encrypts all your data files to make them unreadable. It can also do the same for any backups or data you have stored on external disk drives, in the cloud or anywhere else that it finds connected to the PC. It then puts up screens telling you that if you don’t pay a ransom within a certain time, your files will be unrecoverable.
And they do not lie. Miss the deadline and they destroy one of the all-important digital keys used to encrypt your files. Once that has gone, there is nothing you can currently do to retrieve your data. If you do pay the ransom, usually by having to set up a Bitcoin account, they do send you the decryption key. But the virus is still on the PC and may be tracking everything you do, so additional work is then required to remove it and thoroughly clean the PC.
And don’t get smug, Apple Mac users. There are variants of this targeting your machines as well.
So what can you do? There are a number of virus protection steps you can take:
1. Never open a .zip, .doc or .docx email attachment unless you were expecting it and know what it should be called. If you have any doubt, telephone the sender to confirm. The virus writers are spoofing email addresses, so if you reply to the email because you think you know the sender, you’ll actually be talking to the bad guys. And guess what they will tell you to do…….
2. Do not rely on ‘permanently on’ backup, such as the cloud or an external drive that is left connected to the PC (or an Apple Time Machine). It’s a pain, but the only way to do it these days is to use an external drive or stick and plug it in when you need to backup. Then remove it as soon as the backup is complete. By the way, don’t think you are backing up if you use Drobox, OneDrive or similar. These are not backups, they are file sharing systems. And anyway, they will be encrypted by the virus as well.
3. If you do catch one of these nasties, contact a professional for help immediately. The time window you are given before your encryption key is destroyed is usually only about 5 days, so you need to act fast, especially if you do not have a recent safe backup as described above.
No apologies if this all sounds scary. The people behind this are not the traditional lone programmer sitting in a dark room creating a virus to see how far it gets out in the world. They are organised criminals who are utterly heartless. All they want is your cash and they don’t care how much grief they cause due to the loss of irreplaceable photographs, family histories, etc.
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