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FBI warns of ransomware computer scams

Chuck Biedka
| Monday, July 23, 2018, 9:06 p.m.
If a ransomware virus is detected, immediately disconnect from the Internet to avoid any additional infections or data losses. You can also file a complaint at www.IC3.gov, the FBI suggests.
If a ransomware virus is detected, immediately disconnect from the Internet to avoid any additional infections or data losses. You can also file a complaint at www.IC3.gov, the FBI suggests.

Ransomware scams may attack a computer near you soon, the FBI warned Monday.

The computer software is malicious. It secretly installs itself and encrypts files only to hold the data hostage in return for payment of a ransom.

Home and business, banking, academic and government computers can be impacted.

In recent cases, victims have paid anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Usually the computer screen freezes and a pop up message warns that the user has violated some federal law and the computer will remain locked until money is paid, the FBI warned.

“You may also get a pop-up message saying your personal files have been encrypted and you have to pay to get the key needed to decrypt them. These messages often appear to be from the FBI or another federal agency,” FBI Pittsburgh Public Affairs Specialist Catherine Varnum Policicchio said.

“The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Greg Nelsen said.

“Even if the victim does pay, there is no guarantee they’ll regain access to the data. The best way to protect yourself and your organization is to have a backup of your data, maintain it, and disconnect it from your computer.”

The FBI urges computer users to:

- Always use antivirus software and a firewall. It’s important to obtain and use antivirus software and firewalls from reputable companies. It’s also important to continually maintain both of these through automatic updates.

- Enable popup blockers. Popups are regularly used by criminals to spread malicious software. To avoid accidental clicks on or within popups, it’s best to prevent them from appearing in the first place.

- Always back up the content on your computer. “If you back up, verify, and maintain offline copies of your personal and application data, ransomware scams will have limited impact on you,” the FBI pointed out.

“If you are targeted, instead of worrying about paying a ransom to get your data back, you can simply have your system wiped clean and then reload your files.”

The FBI urges people to “Be skeptical. Don’t click on any emails or attachments you don’t recognize, and avoid suspicious websites altogether.”

If a ransomware popup or message is received on your device, immediately disconnect from the internet to avoid any additional infections or data losses. Also, file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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