Ransomware is a type of software that prevents or limits users from accessing their own system by encrypting the system files, locking the system files, or locking the system screen. The hackers that create this software will only release your system back to you if you pay them a ransom. You can encounter this threat through a variety of means. Ransomware can be downloaded onto computer systems when users visit a compromised website, download an attachment from a spam email, or click on an affected advertisement.

The ransom amount a user must pay to release their information varies, and paying the ransom does not guarantee that users will get a decryption key or be able to unlock their system or files. Hackers also require that you pay the ransom with a currency called Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a digital currency that is created and held electronically. Bitcoins aren’t printed, and no single institution controls them. Unlike bank accounts and most other payment systems, Bitcoin addresses are not tied to the identity of users, and anyone can create a new and completely random Bitcoin address. Transactions are also not tied to the identity of users, so anyone can transfer Bitcoin from any address, with no need to reveal personal information. These transactions are transmitted and forwarded randomly on a very large network. Because of the aforementioned details, Bitcoin is an attractive option for hackers.

Ransomware is affecting individuals, government offices, accounting firms, law firms, and even hospitals. In 2016, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California paid a $17,000 ransom in Bitcoin to a hacker who seized control of the hospital’s computer systems and would give back access only when the money was paid. In January of this year, the Cockrell Hill Police Department in Texas lost video evidence and a store of digital documents after hackers invaded the department’s computer system. The attackers wanted roughly $4,000 in Bitcoin to unlock the files. After consulting the FBI and taking into account the possibility that the files might not be unlocked even if the $4,000 in Bitcoin was paid, the decision was made to wipe the server and delete all of its contents.

There is not a complete solution when it comes to stopping Ransomware, but technology experts suggest a multi-layered approach. Investing in an antivirus program and other applications that are specifically designed to thwart advanced attacks such as Ransomware are recommended. You should also find ways to securely back up your information on an external hard drive or cloud.