Safer Internet Day: A Ransomware Story & Cyber-Security Tips
Today, February 9, is Safe Internet Day worldwide. It promotes online safety and responsibility for internet technology on desktop and mobile devices, especially among young people and children. You can click on your country’s flag at the Safer Internet Day site to learn about the organization’s activities near you: Safer Internet Activities Around the World.
Below I’m including an article I recently posted about cyber-criminals who hacked into an older woman’s personal computer, locked all the files, and demanded a ransom from her if she wanted the files back. This woman is also a writer who was finishing a novel — she lost access to all her book files and ended up paying a ransom to get them back. It’s a chilling tale of cybercrime in today’s world as cyber-attacks on personal computers are on the increase.
If She Didn’t Pay, They Threatened to Destroy Her Hard Drive
They informed her via an untraceable email that if she wanted her computer files back, she had to pay x amount of dollars by a certain date or they would destroy her hard drive. At first, she thought it was a joke, somebody playing a prank on her.
She Lost Access to All of Her Computer Files
But when she couldn’t open any files on her computer, she panicked. Her hard drive held the only copies she had of some of her novels, including the chapters in her current novel-in-progress that was due in six weeks to her publisher.
After mentally beating herself up for not storing independent backups of her novels and other important documents, she took her computer to a local computer-guru-fixit shop. They tested the computer, did everything they could to save the contents of the hard drive…but couldn’t. They informed her that hackers had indeed taken over her computer. She went to the police and filed a report, but they couldn’t save her computer, either.
Hackers Kept Increasing the Ransom
With the threat that if she didn’t pay soon, they would again increase the ransom–plus they bumped up the date on which they would destroy the contents of her hard drive–she paid them. Good news: She regained access to her hard drive.
She immediately made backups (and had them checked by her computer-gurus, who gave her the green light to download them to a new computer). On her new computer, a different brand than before, she set up a virtual fortress of security software.
But all that security software won’t help if a person allows cyber-hackers access…
How Did the Hackers Gain Access?
Only after the cyber-attack was over did she admit to her writing pals what had happened.
She warned them that all it takes is a lapse of common sense to create such a traumatic event: She had clicked on a link in an email sent to her. Yes, it was as simple as that. She was reading email while cooking dinner, thought the email was from a friend who had sent a link with useful business advice. Only later did she realize her friend’s email address wasn’t really her friend’s email addy–but she hadn’t looked closely enough at the time.
That single click led to the hackers getting into her computer, taking it over, and demanding a ransom.
Rule of thumb: Unless you’re positively certain an email is from a trusted source, don’t click any links. One way to double-check is to write the sender a separate email (don’t respond to the email that was sent) and ask, “Did you just send me a link to name-of-link?” Then wait until you hear back before trusting that link.
Here’s an interesting article from The Telegraph on cyber-security and how online hacking has become more commonplace: How hackers took over my computer (by Sophie Curtis).
Computer Security Tips
This article offers tips to protect your computer from hackers: Five Tips to Protect Your Computer from Cyber-Crime.
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