Ransomware is a kind of malware that prevents users from accessing their systems. It forces victims to pay a ransom via an online payment in order to get back access to their system.
Ransomware has been around since 2005, early versions flashed up warning messages telling users they had detected malware on their system and offering to clean it up for a fee (there are still plenty of malware viruses and phishing devices that attempt this trick) and ever since they have been adapting and getting more sophisticated. And they are multiplying.
Some of the more recent versions are able to take over your entire computer, lock up your documents and data and can attack single computers or entire servers and encrypt the contents.
How do I get it?
Users can unwittingly download this threat by visiting malicious or compromised websites, but it can also arrive alongside other malware delivered through attachments in spam emails.
What does ransomware do to my PC?
When the malicious software enters yours computer it either locks down your computer screen or encrypts predetermined files (documents, spreadsheets etc.) with a password, denying you access to your system. At this point victims will usually see instructions on how to pay the ransom.
Can I get ransomware on my smartphone?
The simple answer here is "yes." Ransomware can also target mobile devices. They have been known to target Android users and enabling attackers to change the phone's PIN and demand a ransom from victims to gain access. Although currently limited to a specific Android porn app, it won't take long before it starts appearing in other, more innocent looking apps.
How much ransom will I be expected to pay?
Prices can vary from tens of pounds to hundreds, often through bitcoins or other online payment forms where users are less than transparent. Most payments are around £100-200, because at this price they can ask an affordable amount from a lot of people; a sort of extortion equilibrium. However, paying that ransom doesn't necessarily guarantee access to an infected system.
More devices, more risk
With the growth of the "internet of things," we probably should be a little cautious. When we connect to the internet with our fridge, cooker, lighting, music, television, phones, heating and house locks we open ourselves up to the risk of computer viruses and infection.
The future of ransomware?
Put it this way, we have seen what has happened when we physically interact with computers in the film Tron, we have had horror films based solely on a person's Facebook screen (Unfriended) and we know what happens when we connect everything to the internet (Terminator Genisys). So are we just allowing someone to make us hostage in our homes, deny us access to food and water and turn down our thermostats so low, we freeze until we pay up?