Police Scotland is offering critical advice on how to spot the signs of a potential ransomware attack as part of an initiative to raise cybersecurity awareness.
The initiative, led by the Police Scotland Cybercrime Prevention Team, comes amid European Cyber Security Month and could help individuals or businesses protect themselves.
Malicious ransomware software is designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. The popularity of this attack method has grown significantly among cybercriminals in recent years as a means to exploit money from people and businesses.
James Archbold of the Cybercrime Prevention Team explained: “Criminals will use various means to deceive members of the public or businesses into downloading software to disable their computer system. The user is then instructed to pay a ransom to have their computer unlocked.”
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In June this year, ransomware attacks grabbed headlines after local authorities in Florida agreed to pay significant ransoms to retrieve their data from hackers.
Key Biscayne, Riviera Beach and Lake City were all crippled by the severe malware attacks, which saw the latter two pay $600,000 and $500,000 respectively to cybercriminals.
To prevent similarly disastrous scenarios unfolding in Scotland, police cyber experts are advising businesses and individuals to remain vigilant and, crucially, to never pay a ransom.
“My first advice is not to pay the ransom,” Archbold said. “There is no guarantee that you will get access to your data or device and your device will still be infected.
“Additionally, if you receive a phone call offering help to clean up your computer, hang up immediately. This is a common tactic used by cybercriminals,” he explained. “In some instances, devices can be unlocked utilising a free, Police and industry-backed Europol initiative, No More Ransom.”
Archbold added: “Otherwise, it is best to run a full scan using your antivirus software and follow any instructions it provides, alternatively you will have to undertake a factory reset of your device.”
To reduce the likelihood of falling victim to ransomware, individuals and businesses are advised to make regular backups of important information and to ensure that operating systems and software are always up-to-date.