The multitude of genealogy records that are accessible online makes things easier for today’s genealogist. Type your ancestor’s name into a search engine on a genealogy website, and you may find some of his or her records. The worst case scenario is that the search will come up empty. The websites that host genealogy records have a much bigger thing to worry about – ransomware!
Ransomware is a form of extortion. It takes control over the computer owned by a person, or a business, and makes the computer unusable. The thief behind the ransomware won’t release the computer until they are paid a certain amount of money.
Some ransomware locks down a computer, posts a countdown clock on the screen, and demands the person (or business) pay a certain amount of money, in the form of Bitcoin. Refuse to pay, or make the payment too late, and the thief will everything on your computer. Other forms of ransomware destroy one of your files every 30 minutes until they are paid off.
Originally, the thieves behind the ransomware were targeting random people. Today, many have moved on to targeting businesses and organizations that would have big problems if they suddenly lost access to all their records. The thieves appear to think that because those groups have more to lose, they will be more likely to pay the ransom.
In March of 2016, ransomware forced the closure of the National Records of Scotland (NRS). Anne Slater, head of public services at NRS stated that the service had been closed. “It’s a ransomware virus. It comes in and tries to lock up your files and then you have to give them money.”
The shutdown prevented people from using the NRS to find birth, marriage, and death records. The BBC reported that the virus got into a spreadsheet that was an administrative file. It appears that the virus was embedded in a website that had been clicked on. Fortunately, the problem was spotted before the ransomware could do any damage.
The NRS was closed for a few days while to allow for rigorous safety checks. Within a few days, it was back online, and people were once again able to access photographs of vital records. This time, nothing was lost.
Imagine how you would feel if all of the records on your computer were erased or locked away. There are a few things you can do to prevent being attacked by ransomware. Don’t click on links in emails. Use an ad blocker to prevent infected pop-ups and other advertisements from putting malware on your computer. Always have a backup of your important files, either on an external hard drive or by using an online backup service.
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