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What is ransomware?

Ransomware is on the rise, with companies big and small falling victim, as well as public sector organisations and individuals all falling victim to ransomware attacks over the past 12 months.

The amount of ransomware in circulation has also been steadily increasing, with 100 new “families” added in 2015 alone, according to Symantec. When the results come in for 2016, the number is likely to have increased again.

Therefore, everyone should know what it is, how to prevent it and what to do if you fall victim to an attack.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a particular type of malware (malicious software) that, as the name suggests, holds data to ransom.

Unlike other types of malware, which may quietly steal information or cause computers to run slow, for example, when ransomware infects a machine it will encrypt files or even entire hard drives. A ransom note is then displayed, demanding the user pay an amount of money (usually in bitcoin) to the distributor of the infection.

According to Symantec’s Ransomware and Business 2016 report, the average ransom demanded in mid-2016 was $679. As with the number of ransomware families, the amount demanded in ransom has also grown: in 2015, the average ransom was $294.

Should I pay the ransom?

It’s very strongly advised that you do not pay the ransom if your computer becomes infected by ransomware. This is for two reasons: firstly, paying the ransom will only encourage the cyber criminals behind it to carry out more attacks. Secondly, there is no guarantee you will get your files back or a method to decrypt them – the attacker may simply take your money and run.

Instead, try to make sure you are protected by using an up-to-date antivirus or antimalware program, ensuring you keep all your software up to date with the latest patches and implementing a backup-and-recovery strategy in the case of businesses.

Ransomware and other cybercrimes should be reported to Action Fraud.

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