Malware is the generic term WC uses for all kinds of software intended to do things to your computer that you didn’t intend. It includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware, scareware, and a staggering array of other malicious programs.
But the specific kind of malware WC wants to talk about is ransomware. In its essence, ransomware denies you the use of your computer or your data until you pay a ransom fee. Today, it mostly involves high level encryption of your files. You cannot access your own data until you pay the ransom and receive the key to unlock your data.
Madison County, Indiana, suffered a very serious ransomware attack that shut down virtually all county services last week. The property tax database, the payroll files, planing and zoning files, minutes and agenda files; all of them were encrypted. County court files, county sheriff dispatch records, emergency services records; all locked up. The County couldn’t get at its digital data to conduct county business.
What made the Madison County case a little unusual is that the county’s insurance company recommended paying the ransom. So the insurer, and the county to the extent of the deductible and co-pay, will make a bit coin payment and someone will be rewarded for their crime.
Someone at Madison County clicked on a link they shouldn’t, or opened an email stuffed with an auto-executing malware package. Shame on Madison County for not having its firewalls and antivirus systems up to date, and an extra heap of shame for not having off-premises backups, not connected to the internet, to at least minimize the loss of data to the last backup.
This can happen to you. One of WC’s buddies visited a site he shouldn’t have to watch dirty pictures; in the process, all the data files on his computer were locked up. No backups. He chose to walk away from the data rather than pay the very high ransom.
How to manage the risk? Backups, stored on a drive that isn’t otherwise connected to your computer. Antivirus software that alerts you when unknown software fires up and freezes that software from running until you permit it. If you’re really concerned and, like WC, use a Mac, take a look at Santa, which allows blacklisting – applications forbidden to run – and for high concern whitelisting, a list of the only software permitted to run.
The point is it’s an increasingly dangerous and scary world out there. Malware bites. Guard against it.