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Mar 30, 2016 11:15 AM

NH1 News Investigates: Ransomware cyberattacks will hold your files hostage


As we continue to expand and upgrade the technology in our lives - including smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and even home security systems and new hi-tech cars - the odds of any of us getting hacked at home or work increases dramatically.

“It is so bad now. I’ve never seen it this bad before," technology consultant Craig Peterson said. "It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

McAfee Labs recently released its 2016 Threat Predictions Report to show you where you may be most at risk. Among the biggest threats: ransomware. That’s when hackers not only break into your computer, but also hijack your files and encrypt them.

“Once they’re done encrypting, they’ll pop a screen up that says your files are being held, they’ve been encrypted by some malware and call this number in order to get your files back - as though they’re the good guys,” Peterson said. “And then you call that number, and you usually have to pay them.”

These cyberattacks are becoming more common for individuals and businesses.

The FBI is investigating if a computer virus that forced MedStar Health in the greater DC area to shut down Monday is a ransomware attack.

Staffers from the 10-hospital, 250-outpatient facility were locked out of email and patients were unable to book appointments. Hospital administrators say there’s no evidence that patient information was stolen, but Peterson explains what ransomware COULD do in this type of scenario.

“It encrypts all the patient files, doctor records, all the X-rays, all of the CAT scans - everything," he said. "Now it pops up on everyone’s computer because they’re all networked together. And it spreads over the network. It pops up on everyone’s computer, call this number and pay."

Recently, Hollywood Presbyterian in Los Angeles paid $17,000 to get its system back from hackers.

If you’ve been targeted by ransomware, there’s not much you can do except to pay up - and that’s no guarantee you’ll get your information back.

That means you have to be proactive.

- You want strong cybersecurity. That includes antivirus protection as well as anti-malware and anti-ransomware programs.

- Create secure backups of your information on a regular basis.

- Get an external drive – and remember to unplug it once you’ve backed everything up, so they can’t get infected.

- Cloud storage is an option—but only with high-level encryption and multiple factor authentication.

- Don’t open questionable emails, attachments or links.

- Make sure your computer is up to date on all software.


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