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Ransomware – Just as Scary as the Name Implies!

Posted: September 14, 2016

Ransom is a frightening word – someone takes something of value from you and demands money to return it. Now it is possible for an extortionist to lock up your files until such time as you pay them to let you have the key to unlock them again. With caution you can avoid this possibility, and with pre-planning you can mitigate the need to pay the hijackers if they do encrypt your files.

Ransomware has been around for a long time, but this process of gaining easy money for criminals is catching on and spreading.  And now it has spread to Penn State, and to the College of Ag Sciences as well.  It can start with a link or attachment in an email, or with a compromised website.  Double-click and suddenly all of your icons become little white icons and you are presented with a ransom note on screen telling you how to pay, and how much to pay in order to unlock your files.  A recent compromise in our college demanded a little over $300 in ransom.  Some sophisticated variants of this kind of malware can encrypt not just your hard drive, but also attached drives.  There are also reports that active cloud connections can be encrypted as well.

There are two important take-away thoughts from this article – first - be sure to save your files in locations that are backed up at least once.  Box, PASS, and the College’s servers are your best opportunities for recovering data if your hard drive becomes encrypted.  Documents simply sitting loose on your desktop will likely be unrecoverable.  Secondly – resist the urge to click indiscriminately!  Open links and attachments only from trusted sources and only when expected.

Should you find yourself facing an unwelcome message on the computer screen explaining that your files have been locked and demanding ransom, please contact Ag IT at 814-865-1229 for help.

Additional information on this topic can be found at these two sites:
http://news.psu.edu/story/422030/2016/08/22/campus-life/malicious-emails-pose-risk-penn-state-students-faculty-and-staff

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/ransomware-the-smart-persons-guide/?ftag=TRE684d531&bhid=23170290558827165918176776685344