TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Hackers are accessing personal information for a reason other than to steal your identity or use your credit cards. They are holding the files hostage and demanding ransom money to get them back.
They are using what is called "ransomware" which essentially allows them to lock files on your computer. A screen will pop up that tells you how to pay them to get a code that will unlock the files.
The hackers are demanding hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in Bitcoin, which is an online payment method that is virtually untraceable.
There is usually a time limit in which you need to pay up. If you don't, your files will be locked forever.
If you decide not to pay, there is no way to get your information back and you will have to wipe your computer clean, according to IT Manager for EC Group Technology Consultants Keith Holland.
The ransomware infects computers usually through a link or an attachment in an email. They are usually seemingly harmless, so people click on them without knowing they pose a threat.
"It'll say, 'Hey, here's the information on your FedEx shipment,' or 'Here's a maintenance request.' That's how one of our clients got it because the maintenance guy saw a maintenance request so he clicked on it to open it," said Holland.
The hackers do not know if you are expecting a package or if you manage maintenance requests. They are simply taking a chance and it is a chance with pretty good odds.
"They're sending out a mass amount of emails," said Holland. "If they send out 10,000 and 10% click on it, that's a good return."
Sometimes hackers will take over someone's email address so the ransomware appears to come from someone you know.
Both individuals and businesses are at risk, but some more than others.
"They're targeting seems to be schools, municipalities, they're going after police and hospitals, because these people need their records and they're probably more apt to pay than they are to recover," said Holland.
The Pima County Superior Court was infected with ransomware in February and in that same month a hospital in Los Angeles paid $17,000 to get patient information unlocked.
Holland said the best way to protect yourself against ransomware is to back-up your files. That way, you will have your information saved somewhere else and will not need to pay to get it back.
However, if you are backing-up on a hard drive, Holland said to make sure to unplug it from your computer because some newer ransomware can encrypt that too.