Ransomware virus holds your files for ransom: How to protect yourself

WATCH: Vancouver law firms are warning about a new computer threat from ransomware. John Daly has more on how it works and why its so hard to trace.

VANCOUVER – How would you feel if your computer was locked and all your files were held for ransom?

A new virus called CryptoWall Ransomware is attacking computers in North America and three law firms in B.C. have fallen victim to the scam so far. It was also part of a plot line on an episode of the ‘The Good Wife’ last year, which airs on Global. The law firm of Florrick, Agos and Lockhart had their files seized and they had to pay $50,000 within 72 hours to get them back.

That is how the virus works. Ransomware encrypts your data on your computer and you must pay to get the encryption key to unlock them.

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READ MORE: What you need to know about Cryptolocker malware

“It’s basically a class of malware called Ransomware, so what it will do is, it will install itself on your computer [and] encrypt random files,” said Mike Anderson, project manager at Ecosec in Victoria.

“It will look for images, documents and program setting files, and it will encrypt them, using the same sort of encryption your bank would use to secure communication. So it’s a very very strong encryption and the person who’s running this virus holds the decryption key and without it you can’t decrypt these files,” added Anderson.

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Affected users are also asked to pay the ransom in Bitcoin and only have a certain amount of time to pay the money or lose their data forever.

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“What is apparently happening, this is occasionally hitting companies… you may feel compelled to pay for that [data],” said Anderson.

The primary way Ransomware is affecting computers is through email. For example, users have been asked to print a shipping label for an undelivered package and when they click the link, the virus infects their computer.

“One great way to protect yourself, if you are not 100 per cent sure of an attachment that you see in your email, don’t open it,” said Anderson. Once the files are locked on your computer, even taking it to a computer shop or expert will not be able to unlock them.

“That’s why regular backups is another really great way to make sure you’re not affected by this,” said Anderson.

Keep your software up to date, your antivirus up to date,  and perform system updates to make sure you don’t get infected by Ransomware. And don’t click on links you don’t recognize or seem suspicious.

WATCH:  Echosec product engineer Mike Anderson talks to Global News about Ransomware and how to avoid it happening to you