Beware of computer ‘ransomware’


N.J. Attorney General Robert Lougy and the state Division of Consumer Affairs have issued a warning about the rising threat of “ransomware,a type of computer malware that encrypts, or locks, digital files and holds them hostagefor money.

The paralyzing virus is typically launched through an infected email.

Authorities said employees at large institutions like government agencies, law enforcement bureaus, corporations and health-care organizations are being bombarded with virus-carrying emails disguised as messages from their supervisors or other trusted authority figures. 

Even the savviest web users often do not think twice about clicking on an unfamiliar link when the directive comes from their supervisor, the state warning noted.

Individuals using home computers are not immune from attack. Cyber criminals are targeting the servers of organizations with large memberships, like alumni associations and religious groups, to send spoofed emails to members, hoping to infect their personal computers.

Once granted access to an individual computer, the malware begins encrypting files and folders on local drives, any attached drives, backup drives and potentially other computers on the same network to which the targeted computer is attached.

Victims often are unaware of the virus until they are unable to access their data or begin receiving online demands for money, usually in the form of Bitcoin or other untraceable virtual currency.

Hospitals eager to regain access to the patient health records, parents anxious to keep their childrens Social Security numbers from identity thieves, and other victims are all faced with the same dilemma: Pay up or risk losing valuable files forever.

As cyber criminals grow more sophisticated in their attacks, consumers must become more vigilant in avoiding them, noted Steve Lee, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.

Tips to avoid ransomware:

Beware of free games, toolbars and other software. Before you download software, make sure it is from a trusted source. 

Never click on links in suspicious emails or pop-up advertisements. Even if the source looks legitimate like an email from your bank play it safe by opening a new tab to go directly to the website.

 • Be particularly skeptical of emails with attachments that appear to be from trusted brands/contacts when they arrive unexpectedly.

Be just as safety-conscious on your smartphone as you are on your PC or office computer.

Regularly back-up your important files, including those priceless family photos, and store the data offline for safekeeping.

Make sure your home computers have current anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware software.

Since ransomware can also attack from a website, make sure that vulnerable plug-ins like Flash and Java require your permission to run.

 • Use ad-blocking extensions in browsers to prevent drive-byinfections from ads containing malicious code.

Use web and email protection to block access to malicious websites and scan all emails, attachments, and downloads and configure email servers to proactively block emails containing suspicious attachments such as .exe, .vbs, and .scr.

Consider utilizing a free or commercially available anti-ransomware tool by any of the leading computer security software vendors.

Unfortunately, the proliferation and sophistication of ransomware attacks make it difficult for even the most careful web-users to keep themselves safe,” authorities noted. And once victimized, theres not much that victims can do to find the criminals behind the attacks because theyre launched from anonymous internet routers that are difficult, if not impossible, to trace.

But there are steps you can take to avoid having to pay the ransom.

If you suspect youve been hit:

Disconnect from networks immediately if an infection is suspected and do not reconnect until the computer or device has been thoroughly scanned and cleaned.

Alert the appropriate information security contact within your organization if unusual activity is seen on networks, computers, or mobile devices. 

Depending on the type of ransomware youre hit with, a free decryption tool may be available. To determine which variant infected your system, click on the N.J. Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell (NJCCIC) Ransomware website.

If you or your organization is the victim of a ransomware infection, or would like to learn more about cybersecurity information sharing, threat analysis and incident reporting, visit the NJCCIC website, or contact a cyber liaison officer at


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