NBC5 News Special Report; Part 2, protecting yourself from ransomware

Medford, Ore. — Earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of people around the world were hit by ransomware. The software locks your computer, and forces you to make a choice – pay a fee of hundreds of dollars to get access to your files, or wipe your hard drive and lose everything.

Now, we learn more about the malware that’s been no stranger to Jackson County, and how we can protect ourselves and our computers – in part two of an NBC5 News Special Report.

The Jackson County IT Department houses more than one dozen agencies under its belt. It handles 27 computers at the Rogue Valley International Airport, 73 at the District Attorney’s office, and 124 at the Sheriff’s Office.

Now, take into account the other hundreds of computers at other agencies. Add it all up, and that’s more than 1,000 computers Jackson County IT has to protect from malicious software, like ransomware.

“If you care about your data, you have to take the steps to protect it,” said Mark Decker. Decker is the CIO and director for the Jackson County IT Department.

He knows first-hand the importance of protecting yourself from a ransomware attack. Just a couple years ago, the county dealt with a similar situation.

“There were several agencies in the valley that were hit a few years ago. The county got hit, one of our departments experienced a ransomware attack,” he said.

Luckily, Jackson County was well-equipped, and walked off with minimal damage.

“We didn’t lose any data, because we had a good backup,” he said.

Now that the malware is making its rounds once again worldwide, Decker wants to make sure you’re prepared.

“Given how dependent we are on computers nowadays, a lot of people have their entire lives on their computers,” he said.

That means anything from family photos, financial books and tax records.

“If you don’t take steps to protect it – something like a ransomware attack can be really devastating,” he said.

Which is why Decker said it’s crucial to not only know how to protect yourself — but know how to recover from an attack as well.

“Ransomware will encrypt the entire computer and there’s really no way to get it back unless you pay the ransom,” he said.

But that’s something he doesn’t suggest doing.

“Even if you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee that they’ll give you the key,” he said.

Decker said there there are four main things you can do to protect yourself and your computer from ransomware:

  1. Backing up your files — either by using the feature built into your operating system, or using the cloud or an external hard drive.
  2. Keep your software up to date — this will assure you also have the latest level of protection.
  3. Use an anti-virus software — either one that’s built into your system, or a third-party software.
  4. Learn how to recognize threats to your computer — whether it be from pop-ups, suspicious links, or suspicious emails.

“Learn how these things look, learn what the behaviors are, what viruses look like – what kind of red flags to watch out for,” he said.

It’s those red flags that could potentially save your data.

As far as whether or not you should be concerned about your sensitive information, if the county was hit with another major virus, Decker said it’s well-protected.

“We’re following best practices to keep the data safe and make sure that county citizens aren’t impacted by any types of attacks,” he said.

If you believe your computer has been hit with ransomware, you should take it to an IT specialist as soon as possible, so they can try to decrypt the malware. Jackson County IT also recommends people learn from free video trainings on YouTube, by searching ‘phishing bait’ or ‘malicious websites.’

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