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A heads-up on the nastiest new malware threat of the 21st century

Imagine springing up out of bed early in the morning, ready to confront the challenges of your day head-on. As coffee brews, you fire up your laptop to attend to your ritual morning check-ins: personal and work emails, news and weather sites, Facebook, maybe your Instagram or Pinterest. But when you switch on your machine, the only screen that comes up is an anonymous threat illustrated by a monstrous visage.

The screen displays a message: “Your computer files have been encrypted: your photos, videos, documents, etc. But don’t worry! I have not deleted them – yet. You have 24 hours to pay $150 in Bitcoins to get the decryption key. Every hour, files will be deleted, increasing in amount every time.”

You try rebooting, unplugging and plugging in the machine, disconnecting it from the Wi-Fi, but nothing works. That same damnable lock screen and threat comes up every time, and there’s no way to break out of it.

You start thinking of phoning a friend with deeper geek skills for help. You search your memory: when was the last time you backed up that laptop? How does one go about making a payment in Bitcoin, anyway? There has to be some other way out of this! Maybe it’s just an elaborate practical joke? What if you can’t ever recover everything you had stored on that machine?

You feel trapped, numb, a little panicky. You’ve been hit by a ransomware attack, making you one of a fast-growing legion of victims. If you don’t figure out how to pay the extortion fee — typically a few hundred dollars for consumers, perhaps many thousands of dollars for businesses — within a specified period (usually a few days), your attacker will throw away the decryption key, preventing you from accessing your files ever again.

Ransomware — the fastest-growing IT security threat in history

Virtually unknown just a few years ago, this heinous new form of malware has quickly become the fastest-growing and costliest IT security threat in history. In 2015, online criminals used ransomware attacks to extort a mere $50M from victims. By the end of 2016, the FBI projects that ransomware gangsters will reap a cool billion dollars. The crooks are casting a wide net, targeting consumers and businesses alike. Hospitals are a popular target, like Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California, which famously got shut down for a week by a ransomware attack and paid $17,000 for the keys to decrypt its hard drives so it could start operating again.

At Acronis, we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of customers becoming ransomware victims as well, from individual consumers to car dealerships, construction companies, and law firms. The growing media coverage of the ransomware phenomenon has spilled outside of the IT press into the wider world: even the literary-minded The Atlantic Magazine ran a piece on ransomware recently. IT analysts and vendors are in agreement that the ransomware plague is about to get much, much worse for a whole host of reasons – like the fact that most online criminals don’t even have to be skilled hackers and coders any more: they can just buy pre-fab malware on the Dark Web.

How you can fight and prevent ranswomare

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore a series of topics here on the subject of ransomware: how it manages to evade traditional security defenses, how its innovative new distribution model is vastly increasing the scale and success of attacks, how Acronis customers have suffered and recovered from ransomware attacks, and how you can build your own effective defense and mitigation strategy to fight and prevent ransomware with cloud backup.

The prospect of you or someone you know suffering a ransomware attack is becoming more of a mathematical certainty by the day. To learn how one Acronis customer managed to survive a ransomware attack with minimal disruption to its business, download this case study, “Recovering Your Company’s PCs Affected by Ransomware”.

The ransomware monster under your bed is indeed real. Pretending it isn’t there is no way to deal with it. Download our case study, and watch this space for more essays on the ransomware menace and how effective backup can keep it from destroying your valuable business data and personal files forever.

About Acronis

Acronis is a Swiss company, founded in Singapore. Celebrating two decades of innovation, Acronis has more than 1,800 employees in 45 locations. The Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud solution is available in 26 languages in over 150 countries and is used by 20,000 service providers to protect over 750,000 businesses.

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