Beware ransomware: If it’s important, encrypt it

Ransomware has become a menacing and demoralizing factor in today’s computing environment.  Ransomware’s rocket-like growth over the past five years has reached epidemic proportions. Every computer user must become more attentive about clicking on unfamiliar links and opening e-mails without some verification.

Here’s a message that makes you cringe: ‘We have encrypted your data. Pay us in bitcoins if you would like to get the encryption key to unlock your data. If you choose not to pay (usually you have a few days), we might just post all of your data online, and then destroy all of your files.”  And, of course, “Thank you.” Nice touch.

Ransomware attacks are costly from a time, manpower, emotional and money perspective. It’s a planned attack designed to extort money from you. In the past three years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has received tens of thousands of calls asking for help from ransomware attacks.  The FBI seems powerless here, and generally recommends that users pay the ransom to regain access to valuable data.

Each succeeding ransomware product is nastier than its predecessor, meaning it becomes more challenging to remove. The latest product has been designed to insert malicious code into the master boot record of your storage device. As if this isn’t bad enough, cybercriminals who create and spread crypto-ransomware now are resorting to causing the Blue Screen of Death and putting their ransom notes at system startup.

From Brian Krebs, noted computer-security blogger at “The most recently developed malware, known as the ‘Locky’ strain of ransomware, is a contagion that encrypts all of the important files, documents and images on an infected host, and then deletes the originals. Victims can regain access to their files only by paying the ransom in Bitcoin.”

At our company, BlackSquare Technologies, we suggest that if the data is important, encrypt it.  “You never know who’s looking” should become your new mantra, as it’s true. Encrypt the important stuff and be diligent about managing backups. Now, you’re prepared for an unplanned event. Encrypt important files and folders so no one has access to your data without your permission and knowledge.

No longer should you think others will protect your data. Don’t lay that off on someone else.

There’s a lot of resistance to this concept, because it’s just not convenient. We know that multiple federal agencies and Fortune 100 enterprises have been hacked. We also know that routers and firewalls are not immune to attack.

Would it surprise you to learn that 82 percent to 88 percent of all Social Security numbers have been hacked more than once? Would you be alarmed to learn that you’re now in a race with identity thieves for your Internal Revenue Service refund and your Social Security or pension checks?

Take a few minutes to learn how to encrypt your data. Work with your IT professional or managed-service provider to make sure your data is secure and regularly backed up. Securing confidential data is a great idea, and protects what you’ve worked so hard to accumulate. Use a credible anti-malware and anti-spyware software solution. Take it upon yourself to encrypt what is important to you and continue to practice active management techniques.

After all, the end result is your peace of mind, and that should be a very good thing.

Robert Fleming is founder and president of Erie-based BlackSquare Technologies. Contact him at