Local computer experts said they have at least two or three people per day coming to them for help because a virus has attacked their computer, and those numbers may increase because of recent cyberattacks.
Ryan Rosso and Ed Lanier with Newnan Computers LLC in downtown Newnan, a computer sales and service company, said the recent wave of cyberattacks has consisted of ransomware, which infiltrates computer systems or networks and uses tools like encryption to deny access or hold data “hostage” until the victim pays a ransom.
“They will usually give you instructions on how to pay them,” Rosso said. “If you pay them too fast, they will demand more money or if you pay them too slow, all of your files could be lost. It’s like they’re selling you the key to unlock all of your files.”
In the typical case, the hackers may demand between $500 to $1,000, but some have demanded as much as $30,000.
Ransomware can be profitable to criminals, many of whom now have the resources to hire professional developers to build increasingly sophisticated malware, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Rosso said malware, which refers to malicious software, is usually the most common type of computer attack.
Depending on the purpose of the malicious software, it may simply be a nuisance causing your computer or device to repeatedly crash. Malware could also be a type of spyware designed to monitor computer use, steal personal information or commit other types of fraud. Malware can also infect phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr sent information out earlier this week urging consumers to take necessary precautions in the wake of an international cyberattack. It is being reported that most of the attacks are coming in the form of ransomware.
“With hackers and identity thieves frequently finding new ways to infiltrate your computer, end-user awareness is critical in preventing the spread of malware,” Carr said.
Rosso said he recommends always having your files backed up on another device, such as an external hard drive and not to pay the hackers.
“Do not plug it back into your computer until your computer has been wiped clean,” he said.
It also possible to infect your computer by visiting legitimate sites and clicking on a link that will direct you to another website.
“We had a customer come in yesterday that got a virus by clicking on a link on Facebook to read a story,” he said.
Your phone could be the way a virus gets into your computer because hackers will sometimes call computer users posing as a representative from Microsoft or other companies that claim to help solve a computer problem.
“Microsoft will never call you,” he said.
As far as prevention, Don Brown with ComputerTech USA in Newnan, which specializes in computer service and electronic sales, said the bests ways to stave off a cyber attack are to avoid opening any attachments or clicking on links in emails that you were not expecting.
“Even if you know the person, and you were not expecting a file or attachment, reply to the email or call to confirm they meant to send you the file or attachment,” he said.
Brown said many antivirus programs, or most of the major ones, can stop known variations, but sometimes hackers will change some characteristics of files to make the virus unrecognizable.
How to avoid cyberattacks:
Contain the attack: disconnect infected devices from your network to keep ransomware from spreading.
Restore your computer. If you’ve backed up your files, and removed any malware, you may be able to restore your computer. Follow the instructions from your operating system to reboot your computer, if possible.
Contact law enforcement: Report ransomware attacks to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, FBI’s Cyber Division (CyWatch@ic.fbi.gov or 855-292-3937) or an FBI field office. Include any contact information (like the criminals’ email address) or payment information (like a Bitcoin wallet number). This may help with investigations.
Install reputable security software. At a minimum, your computer should have antivirus and antispyware software and a firewall. For lists of security tools from legitimate security vendors, visit www.staysafeonline.org
Use a firewall: A firewall is a virtual barrier between your computer and the Internet.
Avoid “free” security scans.
Create and protect strong passwords. Use the spam filter.
Backup important data.
Never click on attachments or links in unexpected emails. Reply to the email or call to confirm with the sender.