Want to Get Rid of Ransomware? Infect Your Friends.

Ransomware is pretty nasty stuff, and its victims have included everyone from a lone computer user to a large-scale major medical center. As the name implies, your computer or network becomes infected with a virus that basically locks up the entire thing. A popup window associated with the virus appears and gives you the instructions for removing the virus, namely, to pay the ransom.

In the case of medical facilities that have been targeted, ransomware has proven to be very effective. With their entire network locked up and patient care at a standstill, hospitals cannot treat those who’ve been admitted. Of course, in the case of a number of medical centers ransomware attacks, the fallout also includes the threat of violating patient confidentiality by posting the medical records online. Following the hackers’ instructions may seem like the only alternative in the face of hefty fines.

Researchers have discovered a new twist on ransomware, one that’s particularly insidious. In the case of the Popcorn Time ransomware, the victim either pays the stated amount to unlock his computer, or he can choose to infect two people he knows with the ransomware. If those individuals pay the ransom, the original victim will receive the network key to unlock his computer.

This evil virus works off the same tech mindset that actually benefits internet users. In the same way that you can receive a $10 account credit when one of your friends signs up at a new company’s website, this one traces back to your computer to free you from the virus if you can spread it to two other people who then pay up. While there’s obviously very little in the way of customer service associated with this ransomware, there’s no indication as to what happens if you infect friends who then choose to infect others instead of paying; logically, they didn’t pay so you wouldn’t be unlocked.

So how do you avoid becoming a victim when even your own friends might be interested in infecting you?

1. Antivirus – Make sure your antivirus software is installed and updated regularly. Remember, your software can only protect you from threats it knows about, so updating it when the company releases a new version is important.

2. Watch those links – Tech users have been warned for some time about not clicking links in emails and messages, especially if the sender isn’t someone you recognize. Even if you do know the sender, be cautious. Their account could have been hacked—or as in this case, could be sending you a virus.

3. Malicious attachments are back – Years ago, opening an attachment was the big threat that tech users were warned about, but with easier tactics (like links) that method fell out of favor. Now that more and more people know not to click on a link and now that spam filters are catching those links before you get them, viruses sent as emailed attachments are making a comeback.

4. Beware the downloads – As always, downloading unknown content can infect your computer with a virus. Think twice before doing so, and only download if you can be sure it’s trusted content.

5. Back it all up – Backing up the files on your computer routinely to an external hard drive (especially if they’re important personal or business files, or something irreplaceable like family photos) can give you peace of mind if you’re ever infected with this kind of virus. Instead of paying the ransom, you could just turn that money into a new computer and restore your files from your hard drive as a last resort.

The really tricky thing about ransomware is that hackers have proven they can’t be trusted. Some victims have already paid up only to be told they weren’t getting their access back. Think twice before giving in, and check with a trusted computer support source before paying up.

If you believe your identity has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

Read next: When the “Experts” Get Scammed

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