Internet Security

Don’t Fall Foul of the Scammers: A Guide To Ransomware & Other Threats

Guy McDowell 01-04-2014

There are people making millions from meddling with your computer. Every click and e-mail can bring you within reach of them. How do you protect yourself? By learning what techniques they use and what you can do about them. Here’s your guide to ransomware and the other threats that you might encounter.



Ransomware is any piece of software that demands you pay a price before you can uninstall it or gain access to your other software. It holds the proper functioning of your computer hostage for a ransom.


Ransomware can be as simple as a window that says you have a virus or other malware on your computer. Then it’ll tell you that they have the only antivirus that can get rid of it and they’ll sell it to you for just $19.95 – enter your credit card details here. They then make fraudulent charges on your credit card and you will still have the virus. Generally speaking, don’t pay the ransom. Check out our article on beating ransomware and how to remove it Don't Pay Up - How To Beat Ransomware! Just imagine if someone showed up on your doorstep and said, "Hey, there's mice in your house that you didn't know about. Give us $100 and we'll get rid of them." This is the Ransomware... Read More for some suggestions.

There is one really bad piece of ransomware called CryptoLocker. There isn’t any hope for people whose computers get infected with it. The ransomware encrypts your files the moment it is opened, making them useless to you without the key to decrypt it. They’ll sell you the key for three hundred dollars.



Once you see that you have CryptoLocker on your computer, disconnect the computer from your network. Unplug the network cable and turn off your WiFi card. Don’t use anything to remove CryptoLocker just yet – it will have stopped encrypting files – however you need to decide if you’re going to pay the ransom to get the decryption key.

If you remove CryptoLocker, you won’t be able to pay the ransom to get your files decrypted. We recommend not paying the ransom – that encourages them to come up with more scams, but the decision is yours. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. After you’ve made your decision and taken action, you can use MalwareBytes to remove it.

The better thing to do is follow these steps to prevent yourself from getting stuck with CryptoLocker CryptoLocker Is The Nastiest Malware Ever & Here's What You Can Do CryptoLocker is a type of malicious software that renders your computer entirely unusable by encrypting all of your files. It then demands monetary payment before access to your computer is returned. Read More . Also, refer to our free eBook A Universal Guide To PC Security A Universal Guide To PC Security From trojans to worms to phishers to pharmers, the web is full of hazards. Keeping yourself safe requires not only the right software, but an understanding of what kind of threats to look out for. Read More .

Fake Tech Support Calls

Some computer threats come in the form of a phone call.  This is known as social engineering What Is Social Engineering? [MakeUseOf Explains] You can install the industry’s strongest and most expensive firewall. You can educate employees about basic security procedures and the importance of choosing strong passwords. You can even lock-down the server room - but how... Read More in the security world, and there are things you can do to protect yourself from social engineering How To Protect Yourself Against Social Engineering Attacks Last week we took a look at some of the main social engineering threats that you, your company or your employees should be looking out for. In a nutshell, social engineering is similar to a... Read More . This relies on the victim not being very computer savvy. The current scam is the Fake Microsoft Tech Support call. You get a call from someone telling you that your computer sent them notice that it has an issue. They may tell you that they are a Microsoft Certified Technician or that they are a Microsoft Partner. Some will say they are calling from Microsoft.


The person will ask you to install an application. The application  is a backdoor into your computer that allows them to do what they want with it. Then they will ask you to pay them. If you refuse, they say they will have to undo their help. When you pay them, they make fraudulent charges on your credit card. If this should happen to you, we do have help for you after falling victim to the tech support scam What Should You Do After Falling For A Fake IT Support Scam? Search for "fake tech support scam" and you will understand how common it is across the world. Some simple precautions after the event could help you feel less of a victim. Read More .


Phishing is a geeky way of saying fishing – as in people fishing for valuable information. The bait is a message reading that you need to update account details to continue using a service. The current popular phishing scam is based on Netflix.

In this version of the scam, an e-mail asks you to log in to your Netflix account.  You then click on the link and enter your Netflix username and password.Then you are forwarded to a site saying your Netflix account is been suspended and you need to call a toll-free number for assistance.



When you call the toll-free number, they have you download an update for Netflix which is just a backdoor into your computer. Now the Microsoft Tech Support scam What's Fake Tech Support & Why You Shouldn't Trust Everything You See on Google You’re sitting at home, minding your own business. Suddenly, the phone rings. You pick up, and it’s Microsoft (or Norton, or Dell, or …). Specifically, it’s a support engineer, and he’s concerned – concerned for... Read More takes place.

To help prevent these scams, turn on your browser’s phishing detection. Most browsers come with that feature turned on, but check that to be sure, and update your browser often.

If you’re not sure if a link is safe, there are sites that will help you identify if the link is safe or suspicious 7 Quick Sites That Let You Check If a Link Is Safe Before clicking a link, use these link checkers to check that it doesn't lead to malware or other security threats. Read More . If you’re asked to call a toll-free number, do a web search on the number. There are sites dedicated to tracking phone scammers and the phone numbers they use. If you want to be proactively informed, follow sites that report on new malware trends such as the MalwareBytes’ blog.

IoT Cyberattacks

IoT is the initialization for the term Internet of Things. What is the Internet of Things? What Is the Internet of Things? What is the Internet of Things? Here's everything you need to know about it, why it's so exciting, and some of the risks. Read More It’s the extension of the Internet into devices that most do not consider to be computers. It’s all the devices that your computer can connect to; network attached storage, wireless printers, smart TVs, fridges, thermostats, and light bulbs. In the Internet of Things, these are all points of attack now.



Recently, a distributed denial of service attack was launched using more than 100,000 devices that are capable of sending e-mails. Most people had no idea that some of these devices could send e-mail, let alone be reached by someone else on the Internet. According to Proofpoint, the security company that uncovered this situation, much of the e-mail was sent, “…by everyday consumer gadgets such as compromised home-networking routers, connected multi-media centers, televisions and at least one refrigerator.”

The following documentary, “A Gift for Hackers”, is a must-watch. It’s only 30 minutes long. It goes through a few of the problems with different network-attached devices and attempts to address the issues with the companies that made the products.

What can you do to help prevent your things from being taken over? Make sure you have solid security set up on your router 7 Simple Tips to Secure Your Router and Wi-Fi Network in Minutes Is someone sniffing and eavesdropping on your Wi-Fi traffic, stealing your passwords and credit card numbers? Would you even know if somebody was? Probably not, so secure your wireless network with these 7 simple steps. Read More and those other devices. Reading and following the manuals also goes a long way toward protection.

Potentially Unwanted Applications

Potentially Unwanted Applications, or PUAs, are programs that get installed on your computer alongside other programs, by deception or ignorance. The PUA could be a piece of software that doesn’t hurt anything, but which you really didn’t want or need. It could also be software that opens up your computer to anyone. These PUAs can come from clicking on ads that are designed to look like notifications from your computer, or they can come from piggybacking on an installation of software that you did want.

For the ads, sometimes they are made so that even clicking on the X to close it can start the download.The way to deal with that is to close them using the key combination Alt+F4. That closes the window immediately.

An example of piggybacking software installation is Conduit’s Free Search Protect software, which can get installed alongside uTorrent for example.  It’s not bad software, but it’s probably something you don’t want or need. Yet it’s so easy to just click the Accept Offer button as you go through the uTorrent installation process. Slow down and take some time to read what you’re clicking on.


If you are aware that you’re installing it, and you are aware that the company that asked you to install it is trying to make a little extra cash with it, then it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the case of uTorrent – a much loved torrent client – someone has to pay the bills to keep developing it.

Smartphone Threats

Due to how relatively new smartphones are and the complexities of their hardware and operating systems, threats to smartphones could be a whole new article. There are the typical issues that affect laptops and smartphones alike, as well as  applications gaining access to things they don’t really need 4 Smartphone Security Risks To Be Aware Of There seems to be a sort of general malaise among users – the tech savvy and everyday users alike – that because your computer fits in your pocket, it can’t be infected by malware, Trojans,... Read More , in-app purchases being too easy to make What Are In-App Purchases & How Can I Disable Them? [MakeUseOf Explains] "I can’t believe it!" my cousin said to me the other day, "someone’s just bought a $10 in-app purchase on my mother’s phone, and she doesn’t even know what I’m talking about!". Sounds familiar? How... Read More , holes in firmware allowing the phone to be manipulated, and so on.

The latest news is that there is an aerial drone developed that can easily steal all of your information while you think you’re just using your phone. It tricks your phone into thinking it is connecting to a WiFi access point that it has used in the past. As your data passes through it, the drone takes whatever it wants.


So how do you protect against all of that? Use the basic methods outlined in the free eBook, A Universal Guide To PC Security A Universal Guide To PC Security From trojans to worms to phishers to pharmers, the web is full of hazards. Keeping yourself safe requires not only the right software, but an understanding of what kind of threats to look out for. Read More . Take the same steps that you would take if you were banking with your phone 5 Vital Security Tips For Smarter Smartphone Banking As smartphones have become more capable, many people have begun to use them as a banking tool, and logging in to a bank account on-the-go is much easier and quicker via mobile data than any... Read More and encrypt your smartphone data How To Encrypt Data on Your Smartphone With the Prism-Verizon scandal, what allegedly has been happening is that the United States of America's National Security Agency (NSA) has been data mining. That is, they have been going through the call records of... Read More .

The Takeaway

The fact that you now know these things is good. You know that there are bad guys out there, but you also know there are a good guys out there helping you as well. You’ve learned a bit more, and that’s good. Just slow down and start to pay attention. Don’t be discouraged. be encouraged and be empowered.

Related topics: Anti-Malware, Phishing.

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  1. Robert K
    April 3, 2014 at 5:22 am

    The ABSOLUTE best way to prevent against Cryptolocker (and other similarly functioning malware) is to use a little freeware tool called "CryptoPrevent", which I linked to below...

    This tool has *actually* stopped Cryptolocker from getting installed on my laptop, at least once already, so I am extremely grateful that I had discovered it prior to my "near-encounter" with the dreaded Cryptolocker.

    Also, @Guy, this tool is SO significant in preventing against Cryptolocker-like malware that I highly recommend you edit your article to include this lifesaver!

    Anyway, thanks a million for the article, and keep up the fantastic tips and tricks!

    EDIT: It seems Matthew already wrote about Cryptoprevent in the article you linked to earlier, but still; you may want to mention it again...

    • Guy M
      April 3, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      @Robert, good call. Unfortunately I can't edit my article after that fact but at least you got it into the comments. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous
    April 2, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    You forgot to mention Rogue Antivirus.

    • Guy M
      April 3, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Thanks for the suggestion Anon. Didn't really forget to mention it - it's just another form of Ransomware really. However, your right, knowing the specific term for it is a good idea.

      "Ransomware can be as simple as a window that says you have a virus or other malware on your computer. Then it’ll tell you that they have the only antivirus that can get rid of it and they’ll sell it to you..."

  3. Mark M
    April 2, 2014 at 12:41 am

    A very good read here, I d/l and read the Hacker-proof guide awhile back, looks like it's time to re-read...

    • Guy M
      April 2, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Thank you Mark. If you do only one thing, make sure that your everyday account for using your computer is not an Administrator account. That will stop so much if anything gets past your security software.

  4. Sreeraj R
    April 1, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Superb article.. Keep the work..

    • Guy M
      April 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Thank you. I try and we have excellent editors that really help.