NBC5 News Special Report; Part 1: Ransomware hits southern Oregon

Grants Pass, Ore. —  Only on NBC5 News – a national tech virus hits close to home. Ransomware is a type of malware, that will lock your computer, and block you from all your files. The only way to disable it, is to pay ransom – usually $300.

However, there’s a catch – the longer you wait, the more expensive that fee gets. Ransomware recently made international headlines, when a massive attack impacted hundreds of companies around the world. It also hit here in southern Oregon.

So what do you do? Pay the ransom or scrap your computer? In an NBC5 News Special Report, we introduce you to a Grants Pass man who’s still dealing with the fallout.

“On the computer, and all of a sudden the screen froze with all this verbage and information on it,” said Richard Wielatz, a victim of ransomware.

Wielatz said he rarely uses his computer, so when he saw something was taking over his system, he wasn’t quite sure what he should do.

“It said – oops, your information has been encrypted or whatever else like that,” Wielatz said.

He didn’t know it at the time, but 72-year-old Wielatz had become a victim of ransomware.

“It was frozen,” he said.

Wielatz said his screen said in order to unlock his computer, he needed to pay $300.

“There was a phone number on it, and so I called it and I was talking to the guy,” he said.

But that phone call didn’t help his situation.

“I could barely understand him – he was a foreigner,” he said.

Wielatz said it was a very black-and-white deal – either pay $300, or they won’t unlock your files.

“He was relentless trying to get the money,” he said.

Wielatz saID he wasn’t going to feed into it. It just wasn’t an option to drop that much cash when he wasn’t certain he’d get what they promised.

“Hell, I can’t do that. I’ve got medical bills and I’ve got my awning that blew off. I’ve been hit with a lot of additional bills,” he said.

Experts said he did the right thing.

“Unfortunately, the only way to decrypt those files is to pay the ransom. But we recommend you don’t pay it, because there’s really no guarantee that they will actually decrypt your files,” said Jason Kellogg. Kellogg works for tech-service company, Connecting Point. He said the only sensible option is something many of us put aside all too often.

“Really, the only thing you can do is restore from a backup. You really have to make sure you’re diligent about backing up,” Kellogg said.

Whether you use a cloud system or an external hard drive, experts said, do yourself a favor – take the few minutes and hit the backup button. Because if something like ransomware attacks your computer — it’s your only hope to restore lost files.

“If it’s that important, you absolutely have to back it up,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg said that includes everything from sensitive documents – like financial paperwork or billing statements to personal items — like photos or videos.

“The criminals they’re working 24/7,” Wielatz said.

Though Wielatz is trying to still trying to figure what he’ll do with his computer, he has a message for others.

“They’re relentless – they won’t let up so you better not let up. Just protect it as best as you can,” Wielatz said.

NBC5 News Reporter and Weather Forecaster Nikki Torres graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Strategic Communication from The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

She also received a minor in Business Administration from the Washington State University Carson College of Business. Prior to coming to NBC5, Nikki was an intern at KHQ Local News, the NBC affiliate in Spokane.

She comes to Southern Oregon from the state of Washington, where she grew up just south of Seattle. She loves running, exploring the Pacific Northwest, watching a good football game and spending time with her dog, Gisele. True to her roots, Nikki is a proud WSU Cougar fan and loyal Seahawks fan.

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