April 17, 2016 10:00 am
Updated: April 18, 2016 10:15 am

Ransomware on the rise in Canada: How to protect your data

Canadians are facing more malicious attacks online than previous years. Tech Reporter Nicole Bogart offers tips on how to protect yourself from falling victim to these attacks.

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Ransomware attacks are on the rise in Canada, according to the latest Internet Security Threat report from security firm Symantec.

The report found that Canada ranked fourth on the list of countries most commonly hit by ransomware and social media scams. In fact, Symantec’s report estimates Canadians were affected by over 1,600 ransomware attacks per day in 2015.

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But what exactly is ransomware and how can you prevent yourself from becoming the victim of cyber attackers? Here is everything you need to know to protect yourself:

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts files on a user’s computer and asks for money in exchange for unlocking the data.

The ransomware will look for images, documents and programs on your computer and encrypt them so that you can’t access them.

The software will likely threaten to permanently erase all of your data if payment is not handed over.

READ MORE: Beginner’s guide to protecting your information online

A well-known example of this type of malware is called “Cryptolocker.” It made headlines in June 2014 after the RCMP revealed more than 5,000 Canadians had been tricked into installing it – some even offered up money to have their data decrypted.

In the case of Cryptolocker, users would see a message appear on their screen demanding they pay up to US$300 in bitcoin within a certain time period or risk their data self-destructing.

How does ransomware get on your computer?

One of the most common ways cyber attackers trick people into downloading ransomware is through spam email and email attachments.

Often these malicious emails are disguised as legitimate emails from real companies – like Apple, Canada Post and UPS – with what look like legitimate attachments. However, when you open the attachment the virus is downloaded onto your computer.

READ MORE: Your online bank account: At risk of a cyber attack?

Ransomware can also be downloaded by visiting malicious websites set up by attackers for the sole purpose of spreading the malware.

What happens if your computer is infected?

First things first – do not pay to have your data unlocked.

“Paying the ransom just funds the cybercriminals and allows them to continue their activities. And paying the criminals does not guarantee your computer or files will be unlocked; often the bad guys just take the money and run without unlocking the computer,” said Symantec experts.

If your files have been encrypted you can try using anti-virus tools to unlock them and remove the malicious software from your computer.

READ MORE: Apple computers hit with ransomware for the first time

“If your files have been encrypted, there may be a tool available to unencrypt them but this depends on the variant you’ve been infected with. If there is no tool available, you may have to restore them from a backup,” read the company’s tip sheet.

How can you protect yourself?

The best way to protect yourself from any sort of ransomware is to maintain up-to-date anti-virus or anti-malware software and ensure you are backing up your computer regularly to prevent losing any of your important files.

As mentioned, users should be wary of any unsolicited emails or emails from addresses they may not know.

A good way to know if the link provided in an email is legitimate is to check the URL by hovering your mouse over the link – if the email appears to be from a business, say UPS, and the URL is not the company’s official web address, then it’s likely a fraudulent email.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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