At least one of the churches in Nevada Presbytery lost access to all their word processing, PDF, Excel and Publisher files earlier this year. Bulletins, worship services, minutes, sermons, posters, newsletters all failed to open and displayed various error messages instead of the content.

The church was hit by Cryptowall, one of the Ransomware variants that are making millions for international cybercriminals by locking files by completely encrypting them until a ransom is paid. (Usually hundreds of dollars payable in untraceable bitcoin.)

The church didn’t pay the ransom and all information on the computer remains encrypted: indistinguishable from scrambled nonsense. Unusable and irretrievable.

Most ransomware bypasses anti-virus by posing as a legitimate file attachment in a phishing email. (“Phishing” is an attempt to trick people into giving up information or lowering their guard so the criminals can attack, or hook, them.) Criminals can also gain access to computers by tricking users to click on offers or ads on webpages.

What can you do?

Backup! Backup! If you don’t have 3 copies of information, it is not saved. Off site backup guards against other disasters as well as malware like ransomware. Automatic on-line backup is always up to date.  (Automatic on-line backup companies include: Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan, iDrive, BackBlaze, and SOS Backup.)

Don’t CLICK! Unless you requested a file attachment. Do NOT click on attachments. Friend and colleague emails can be spoofed; confirm by phone or in person that they sent you a file. Remind everyone using church computers NOT to click on attachments, offers and ads.

Almost all malware and ransomware need your “Administrator” privileges to attack you. Stop attacks by making your everyday account a “local” or “standard” user so that malware like ransomware can’t use your privileged access against you. Create an Administrator account for the rare times you need special privileges.