If you haven’t seen ransomware yet when browsing the web, it’s only a matter of time until you do. Ransomware is the latest phishing scam to hit the Internet, causing users to panic and turn off credit card information to regain control of their computers. You may be browsing the web you like you do and a pop-up appears telling you your system has been locked down until you call a phone number and pay a ransom, hence the name.

Let’s look at what ransomware is, how to avoid it, and what you can do if you’re caught up in this scam online.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of virus injected into your computer when you visit a website infected by certain types of malicious code. While your anti-virus software will catch 99.9% of ransomware pop-ups before you see them, it’s the one time it gets through that will cause the most damage. Depending on the type of ransomware threat, you can see the following happen to your PC during an infection:

  • All data on your hard drive is encrypted
  • File names changed and scrambled, making them impossible to recover
  • Personal information published to the deep web

In some cases, there’s no real virus infecting your PC. That’s how the scammers get you to turn off your credit card information, bitcoin, and other personal information. You’ll see a big flashing pop-up, telling you your computer is infected, and you must call a number right then and there within a certain timeframe or else you’ll lose your information forever.

In this scenario, the truth is that nothing has happened to your computer, data, or personal information. These scammers are hoping that in your panic, you’ll call the number and pay up before you’re any wiser.

In other cases, your computer is infected with a virus that can encrypt your data, steal your personal information, and cause more trouble than you can imagine.

Unfortunately, this scenario ends in one of two ways: You pay up and your data is lost or you don’t pay up and your data is lost. In extreme situations, the code may even

Avoiding Ransomware

It’s easy to avoid ransomware. If you see a pop-up that threatens your PC’s health and security, don’t panic. Read through the notice, pull out your cell phone or tablet, and do a quick search on the scam. Chances are you’ll find others who were either fooled or didn’t believe it to calm your nerves.

In the rare case that it is a real threat, attempt the following:

From there, you’ll want to close the pop-up window. This can be easier said than done as other code injections from how the pop-up is displayed may threaten you further or even need you to turn off your PC and restart.

Once you’ve ridden yourself of the ransomware pop-up, disconnect from the Internet and run both an anti-virus scan and malware scan. We recommend Malwarebytes for the latter, it’s free and offers an extensive database of all types of malware threats. Clean up any issues that occur in either program.

The last resort will be to restore your PC from a backup. This can be a system restore point in Windows, recovery media, or a refresh partition depending on how your computer restores and recovers itself.

Preventing Ransomware

If you aren’t already backing up your data on the cloud, on USB drives, or somewhere else, we recommend you do so regularly. In the event that you’re infected by a virus or something worse, you’ll be able to recover that much quicker and this will give you peace of mind when you come up against ransomware threats.

Make sure if your PC has recovery media, a refresh partition, or another restore method available you know how to use it and it’s up to date in the event you need it.

Consider encrypting your own hard drive. Certain Windows versions have a built in feature called BitLocker that does this. There’s also a handful of third-party software out there that can do this for you. That way if your computer is infected, your data will be safe from harm even if you have to restore or recover your PC.

Always use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Run this at least once a week whether you see threats online or not. The same can be said for anti-malware software titles.

In the event that your PC is infected by ransomware, take a deep breath. You’ll recover from it so long as you’re prepared with the steps above.

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Melissa Popp is Director of Digital Engagement for Altitude SEO, a boutique agency helping small businesses win with content online. As a digital strategist with a passion for technology and travel, she coaches her partners to connect with their audience through experience optimization, with the goal of retaining more loyal visitors, creating brand ambassadors, and increasing conversion goals. She can be found online writing for About Travel, TechNorms, and The Emmys. Past clients include Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Samsung.