Beware the Ransom-ware!
Over the past month a new scam, fraud, virus (whatever you want to call it) has cropped up. Ransom-ware is when your computer becomes infected by a piece of software that encrypts all your data (documents, pictures & music etc) and demands payment of a substantial fee to unlock your stuff. The virus also recursively scans USB storage and network drives, including Dropbox etc. The new development is that the scam email that you receive to start things off now includes your name & address, as well as being well written without the usual spelling mistakes and Americanisms.
The email says that you owe money to a variety of well known British companies and charities and invites you to download the offending invoice: Following the download link is what infects your computer. Within a few seconds, much of your data will have been encrypted and a ‘ransom note’ is displayed on your screen telling you to pay up or loose your data forever. The longer you leave it, the more you have to pay!
Now, I have always advocated NEVER to pay the ransom as there is no guarantee that you’ll get your data unlocked and your money will just disappear into the ether; however the choice is yours. If you do choose not to pay then removing the virus and cleaning up the computer is usually fairly straightforward but history tell us that your data is gone for good. It may be inconvenient and it may be upsetting, but is it really life changing?
On a more positive note, email is rarely affected as many of us now use webmail and on-line mailboxes that cannot be accessed by the virus. As much of your data may be sent and received by email you are often able to recover a goodly bit.
How could you avoid this? You can’t stop the incoming email if you are unfortunate enough to get one but you can be vigilant and be savvy enough to realise that it is a scam. Just delete the email! Secondly you should have good anti-virus software to block the virus if you do follow the download link, and finally you should have a good backup system on-line or on a removable drive that is not permanently connected to your computer.
Added: 1st July 2016