The FBI and cybersecurity researchers have issued increasingly urgent warnings over the course of 2015, culminating this week with a list of the best ways to avoid becoming a victim. While attack details vary, cases typically involve a user opening his or her computer to find a note saying all the machine’s files – family photos, financial documents, music, anything of value – have been encrypted, and the only way to unlock the system is to pay a bitcoin ransom within a certain time window. All it takes is for a victim to click on an infected advertisement, email link or, most commonly, download a disguised email attachment (known as a Trojan).
The best way to avoid ransomeware, the FBI says, is to always backup a computer’s contents on an outside device. If all that sensitive information is on an external hard drive that can mitigate the loss. Unfortunately, there’s no certain way to stay safe, but Internet users are also encouraged to use ad-blocking software, or browser filters that will prevent malicious ads from ever appearing in the first place.
But as attacks become more frequent, counterattacks are ramping up. The cybersecurity companies FireEye and Fox-IT previously worked together to create decryptcrpytolocker.com, a free service that promised to unlock files encrypted as part of the CryptoLocker ransomware campaign. It’s conceivable that more of these services will surface as strains of ransomware become more prevalent.