Be aware: the rise in ransomware

As you’ll see from some of our recent updates, cybercrime is on the rise. However, not all thieves wear balaclavas and carry bags of “swag”. Online crime is perhaps one of the most lucrative crimes of all. And whilst it is commonly considered the easiest way to obtain vast amounts of cash, it is also one of the easiest to prevent.

The recent pandemic has seen a growth in the number of “ransomware” attacks, where software is installed on a computer designed to block access to key programmes or computer functions. Usually, the only way to unblock them is by paying a sum - or a ransom - to whoever has installed it there.

The answer sounds simple then, doesn’t it? Just don’t let anyone install anything to your PC? The problem is, not all criminals are easy to spot. In fact, this type of cybercrime has got frighteningly clever - and that is why we all need to be on our guard.

Ransomware will usually come in email form containing a link or attachment. There might also be a sense of urgency in these emails too: “act now” and “24 hours only” are commonly used phrases. Some ransomware is more vicious. Some messages say things like “your bank details have been compromised” or “you need to contact us immediately to change your password”.

One recent example was an email purporting to be from food retailer, Iceland, advertising priority delivery slots. Only, the link contained within the email was fake. In another example, people were targeted by scammers posing as their employers, asking for personal details to be sent to the suspect as part of their return to work.

It can be difficult to tell which emails are legitimate, but, there are a few telltale signs. Crimestoppers have these helpful pointers:

  1. Check that all spelling in the email is correct - including any links.
  2. Check that the email address or any web links are correct. If you are unsure, the best way to do this is to type the address into Google in a separate window. DO NOT click the link until you are sure the email is genuine.
  3. Finally, keep it simple - are you expecting any communications from anyone? If not and they are asking for passwords or personal details, it’s likely to be a scam.

What happens if you become infected with ransomware?

The National Crime Agency (NCA) does not recommend that you pay any ransom. This could put you in further danger and there is no guarantee that your systems will be returned to you.

Prevention is better than cure and ideally, you should be using layers of defence to give you more opportunities to detect any threats from cybercrime. If you can limit the impact by making regular, up to date backups of important files, it could be possible to recover data without having to pay a ransom.

Make sure you use a backup device such as an external hard drive or cloud service, so that it is not permanently connected to your network or device. Test your backups to make sure that the files can be restored.

It might also be helpful to remember that the police and banking representatives will NEVER ask you, either as an investigative or security step, to transfer funds anywhere or apply pressure on you to do so.

If you’ve been affected by cybercrime and you would like some legal advice, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.