In a world where we rely on technology for almost everything we do, criminals are also becoming much more tech savvy. Twenty years ago, cybercrime didn’t exist. Now, it’s a growing area with multiple subdomains that the FBI says is only going to continue growing.

Multi-Million Dollar Enterprise

One of these cyber threats – ransomware – is a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise. With ransomware, cyber hacktivists convince users to download attachments or click on seemingly harmless links on the Internet. These links contain malicious code that installs on the user’s computer. Once the code activates, the software encrypts the device with private keys known only to the hacker, which leaves the device useless to the user. The worst part? To “unlock” the device, the user must pay a certain “ransom” in order to access their data.

Why is Ransomware so Successful?

Ransomware is and will continue to be successful because users continue to pay. According to data from the FBI, there were 2,453 ransomware incidents in 2015, which generated about $24.1 million from victims. Unfortunately, the last nine months of 2014 saw 1,838 reported incidents, with $23.8 million in losses. The silver lining? The FBI is actively looking for the groups of cyber criminals who are most likely behind these attacks.

2 Options When Faced with Ransomware

The golden rule of storing anything on an electronic device – your laptop, phone, iPod – is to always back up the data. Whether it’s using a secure cloud service or external storage device, the only certain way to ensure your data is saved is to back it up. While some devices, such as iPhones, can automatically backup your data, others do not. To be on the safe side, I suggest backing up weekly at the very least.

When infected with ransomware the user only has two options: (1) pay up or (2) format the device and start over. In most cases I recommend that users affected by ransomware format their computer and begin anew by restoring key data – assuming users are backing up their business or personal data to an external storage device. If there are no backups available, paying is the only option. More than likely, once you’ve paid, you will be compromised again with an even higher ransom. While this is unavoidable, backing up your data often will help you from having to start completely over.

3 Tips to Avoiding Ransomware

Cyber-terrorists are getting smarter about their attack methodologies and using social engineering to implement their attacks. Vigilance is key. Follow these three steps to help protect you from cybercrimes:

  1. Validate the sender – cybercriminals can often mimic email addresses of users you know.
  2. Scan all attachments with virus software. If it looks unusual, don’t open it.
  3. Mouse over any links to ensure they are pointed at the destination you are expecting before clicking.

Given our growing infatuation and dependence on smart homes and smart devices, these criminal enterprises will only continue to flourish. The best way to protect yourself against these crimes is to understand the nature of the threats and mitigate them with common sense and protective measures available off the shelf. If you are a victim of ransomware or any other cybercrime, report it directly to the FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/report-threats-and-crime.