Personal computers helped to revolutionize the way in which people communicate. Networked computers and other systems greatly enhance rapid communications. Unfortunately, it also enhances the ability of criminals to target individuals and organizations with ransomware.

Most people understand the concept of ransom as it relates to kidnappings. Someone has abducted someone else and will not free them hostage until a ransom is paid.

Ransomware works virtually the same. But instead of holding a person as a hostage, the criminal holds your computer hostage. The primary tool usually is an encrypted program that will not let up until you pay a ransom and the criminal or criminals remove the ransomware from your computer.

Personal Computers Could Be Vulnerable

The best news for consumers across the United States is that ransomware attacks have migrated more toward big organizations with lots of money. The potential payout from a random person struck with ransomware versus a national or international organization with lots of revenue makes online criminals target organizations more.

That does not mean consumers are off the hook. Ransomware typically infects a personal computer when the user unwittingly downloads malicious malware. Many do so after being scammed by false ads declaring a personal computer’s security is at risk.

The criminals try to convince unwary consumers that their personal computers and information are vulnerable and offer to provide a solution for a problem that does not exist. When an unwary consumer loads the alleged solution, the problem suddenly becomes real.

Millions of U.S. Citizens Targeted Annually

A small percentage of U.S. consumers wind up with ransomware because larger organizations have more to lose and a greater ability to pay. A recent study conducted by researchers at Stanford University shows between about 3 percent of consumers in the United States wind up targeted by ransomware.

While the percentage is small, the number is large when considering how many people own personal computers in the United States. The study shows up to 7.5 million people have computers infected with ransomware every year. And a relatively small percentage of those people pay a ransom.

Stanford’s researchers say the average ransom paid by individuals to free up their computers is $530. That adds up to more than $100 million paid by consumers to regain use of their computers and personal information. The average amount paid by consumers is very small compared to what criminals could obtain from businesses, governments, and other large entities.

Bigger Payoffs but Bigger Risks with Organizations

A group of criminals engaged in spreading ransomware and collecting payouts from victims mostly focuses on large entities. More than 80 percent of all ransomware attacks target very large organizations that are capable of paying tens of millions in ransom to free up their proprietary computer systems.

Not paying could become a larger financial problem than paying up right away for large entities. They need to keep operating to prevent panic and continue moving forward. But those large and relatively wealthy organizations also have the ability to initiate investigations.

The risk of getting caught is higher when ransomware targets large entities versus consumers who pay $530 on average. But the potential payoff is much higher with the larger entities. So ransomware continues to target organizations and individuals alike. But the method mostly is different.

Automated Ransomware Mostly Targets Consumers

Online criminals generally pay more attention to targeting organizations and their security systems. Those are the ones that use the latest in cybersecurity systems and are harder to crack than the security protecting personal computers.

Individuals typically fall prey to automated ransomware. Instead of dealing with a live person or people on the other end who are trying to hack into their respective computers, individuals are targeted with automated ransomware programs.

Automated ransomware is most effective against existing cybersecurity programs that have been around for a while. That makes it easier to write a single ransomware program and distribute it to tens of millions of personal computers in one assault. Even just a small percentage of successful infections and a small percentage of $530 payments add up to as much as $150 million in annual revenues from online criminality.

Updated Ransomware Protection Thwarts Automated Attacks

The best way for consumers to protect against online threats like ransomware is to stay abreast of the latest security measures. Downloading and using an effective cybersecurity program can help to protect personal computers and online accounts. So using current ransomware protection can help to reduce the profitability of ransomware attacks on consumers.

It also can help to store information on hardware that is not connected to the internet and that you can access as needed. Backup drives are excellent examples of the kinds of hardware that consumers could use to protect sensitive files and make it much easier to thwart ransomware attacks at home or the office.

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