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The Colonial Pipeline ransomware scam could happen to you

Ransomware is a common crime and it's easier for criminals to get you than businesses or agencies.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Ransomware attacks are nothing new. There are two basic types of ransomware: targeted and opportunistic.

RELATED: Cyberattack on US pipeline is linked to criminal gang

The Colonial Pipeline attack was targeted. There was time spent researching and knowing the scope of disruption. Targeted attacks make the news especially when the target is a utility or affects a lot of people.

The majority of ransomware is opportunistic, and those attacks affect everyday people like you and me.


A criminal gets software onto your computer that encrypts your files or the criminal copies your files to the criminal’s server. At this point, you can no longer access it and the criminal will only give you access if you pay a ransom. In many cases, people pay the criminals and don't get back the files, in the best cases you would pay the ransom and you would get it back.

“Criminals know these opportunistic attacks are more than likely to succeed, cause you're not going to have an army of IT security professionals, but the criminals are more likely to get away with it. They're looking for scale, if they get a thousand people like you, each of whom pays a few hundred bucks, they made a lot of money,” said CyberSecurity expert Joseph Steinberg.

Here's the big question you want to be answered, how do these criminals get you? You're not going to like the answer. It's you.

“It's spread using social engineering attacks, email messages with things attached to them, the free software you're trying to download, rogue websites, that's how people are getting ransomware,” Steinberg said.

To protect yourself:

  • Do the computer and phone software updates -- there are protections in those updates.
  • Have security software and run it
  • Really ask yourself, do I need to click on that pop-up or link?
  • Back up your files often. If you back up your files and have them off your computer, even if a criminal gets them, you have them and don't need to pay to try and get them back. 


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