Beware of hackers who are trying to kidnap computer files. Such crimes have greatly increased in recent months, statistics show.
This is a kind of information extortion by hackers, who mostly target companies. The hackers encrypt the files and then demand a ransom from the owners to unlock them.
There are two stages to this kind of hijacking: accessing the victims’ computers illegally, and secretly encrypting all the computer files using advanced algorithms. And there are two kinds of encryption – asymmetric and symmetric.
The above phenomenon is called symmetric encryption, which is a kind of process for converting computer files from human readable format (called “plaintext”) to another format (called “cipher-text”). This process requires a key (or password or passphrase) and an algorithm.
The reverse process is called the symmetric decryption, which requires the same key and the same algorithm. If the owners do not know the key, they have to crack it by trial and error. Usually, the longer the key length, the more difficult it is to crack. So people tend to use 128-bit or 256-bit length keys for commercial purposes.
Taking into consideration the timing and difficulty when trying to crack a key, hackers usually use 256-bit key length. They use the well-proven and safe Asymmetric Encryption Standard algorithm.
If the victims refuse to pay the ransom, in theory, it could take millions of years for them to crack the key. In such circumstances, most victims pay up and hope the hackers give back the key.
However, most of the time the hackers demand an even larger ransom after they have received the original amount.
Even worse, they vanish because they fear arrest.
You can protect your files against such threats by adopting safe habits when using computers, like avoiding malicious websites and not opening files from unknown sources. However, the best way to protect yourself is to perform regular backups. The more regularly you back up your stuff, the safer your data will be.
If files are kidnapped, you can simply initiate the backup and restore the most recent version.