Ransomware attacks have risen steadily in the past few years to become a widespread, costly form of cybercrime. This attack, which happens when someone infects a computer or network with harmful software and demands payment to remove it, has hit every kind of industry and business and can affect companies and consumers alike.

The first problem with ransomware is there is no guarantee that paying the ransom will restore access to your files, hardware or network. It is a dangerous gamble, and while sometimes it pays off, other times the hacker refuses to unlock the access even after making off with your money.

Some industries seem to have more of a problem with ransomware than others. The healthcare industry has long been a favorite target. This could be attributed to the hefty fines and penalties that medical centers can face for allowing outsiders to infiltrate information that is protected by HIPAA laws. As history has shown, the ransom is often less than the fines would be, so the hospital attempts to pay up.

Cybercrimes like data breaches and computer scams have been known to come and go. However, with ransomware, there has been a very slight decrease. In fact, ransomware attacks and the financial losses associated with them have been steadily rising with no end in sight.

The city of La Porte, Indiana, just paid a Bitcoin ransom of $130,000 to restore access to their city’s network of computers. Without access, many city functions were at a standstill. Unfortunately, that amount is pocket change compared to some ransom demands. For example, Monroe College recently lost access to everything, including email, learning systems and grades, until the hackers receive $2 million in Bitcoin.

The FBI recommends against paying ransomware attackers, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors recently passed a resolution that tells cities they should not pay a ransom in these cases. However, it is ultimately up to the victims to decide how they are going to respond.

Fortunately, there are a few steps businesses and individuals can take to reduce the risk of harm from a ransomware attack:

Backup everything on your computer

If you store all of your important files like documents or photos in an external storage source, then the worst that happens is you have to buy a new computer. For businesses, that expense can be more significant, but usually not more than the ransom would cost. The stored files are put on the new computer, and the money you would have given to a criminal is instead spent on brand-new hardware.

Up-to-date cybersecurity software

Keeping your antivirus and anti-malware software updated and installed can go a long way towards preventing harmful software from infecting your computer or network in a ransomware attack. It is not going to stop every single threat, but if you regularly update your security software with the latest fixes sent to you by the developer, you will be protected from a lot of harmful software.

Never click unknown links or attachments

One of the easiest ways for ransomware to infect your computer is through a phishing attempt. When a hacker sends an email that says something like, “You won’t believe these photos I found,” or “Click here to get your free $100 Target gift card,” you may be installing the ransomware for the hackers.

With proper training and good habits, you can work to avoid ransomware. If an attack does occur, contact law enforcement and IT professionals if you need assistance.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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