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To Pay or Not to Pay: The Ransomware Dilemma

July 14, 2016

Hamlet famously agonized whether “To be, or not to be.” In a recent blog, we talked about the epidemic of ransomware, malware that locks up your computer or data until you pay. While having your computer or files locked up doesn’t pose the same existential dilemma as Shakespearean-style murder, deceit, and betrayal, you are left with a Hamlet-like question: “To pay or not to pay.” Do you hand over the $200-$300 the cyber-extortionists are demanding, or kiss your stuff goodbye?

To Pay or Not to Pay: The Ransomware Dilemma

To answer that big question, you need to ask yourself some other questions first. The first is whether you have backups of everything on your computer. If your computer is backed up daily, either at work or home, then you can tell the ransomers to kiss your grits because you or your tech support person can get you back up and running just fine. If you don’t have backups, then you’re going to have to weigh your options fast, before the ransom offer expires and your files are locked for good. If you have good computer skills or know someone who does, you may be able to go online and find free software to fight the ransomware. It’s worth at least a quick search to see what can be done (obviously on a computer other than the one that’s being held for ransom). If you don’t have those options, you need to ask how valuable is the information on your computer and whether you want to do business with crooks. The more people pay, the more they’re going to attack. (As your mother would say, “it only encourages them.”)

If you decide that paying the ransom is your best option, you will likely be paying in Bitcoin, a cyber-currency that online criminals love because it’s untraceable. But buying and paying with Bitcoin has its own challenges. Also, there’s no guarantee that the ransomers will free up your system after you pay. (Mostly they do, because if word got around that they didn’t, no one would pay ransoms anymore. “Fool me once,” and all that.)

If you do pay ransom and get your system and data unlocked, you need to do two more things. First, you or your tech support person needs to back up your data, then do a clean reinstall of the operating system and applications, because sometimes ransomers leave behind malware that can steal your data in the background or lock you up again. The second is to start doing daily backups, either yourself or through an online service, so you’re never caught in this position again. As a wise old tech support manager used to say, “A fool and his data are soon parted.” It might not be Shakespeare, but truer words were never spoken.