Whether you’re on a PC, a Mac, or a smartphone, you’re at risk for getting caught by ransomware, and according the research, it’s happening to more and more Aussies.

You’ve always known the online world could be a dangerous place, and between all the warnings of viruses, of malware, of internet horrors and nasties and whatnot, you’ve always tried to watch what you click.

But that’s not true of everyone, and new research from Symantec suggests that ransomware is catching many people out, especially in Australia, where we rank as one of the top ten places for ransomware to have an effect.

For those who don’t know, ransomware is one of the web’s more prevalent forms of security flaws and scams, essentially providing a file that can lock down your most critical files and sell the key back to you at a cost.

Often arriving in a scam designed to get you to click on the file, it has become a pervasive security attack that grabs the most unsuspecting of individuals and leaves them in a bad situation, taking ownership of important files, locking them down, and asking for money, with as much as $500 USD — roughly $625 AUD — being seen as the amount people will pay for getting their files back.

Unfortunately, Aussies are paying it, and consumers are still the victims, though businesses are now in the firing line as well, meaning everyone needs to become more aware of what they’re reading and clicking on the internet, taking steps not to fall into a ransomware-laced trap.

“The best way Australians can protect themselves against ransomware is to remember that prevention is better than cure,” said Nick Savvides, Chief Technology Officer at Symantec in Australia and New Zealand.

“This requires not just technology but human intelligence. New ransomware variants a created very rapidly to take advantage of unpatched systems so it is critical to keep your system up-to-date,” he said.

That means security software should be a part of your life, something security experts have been banging on about for years, though it’s becoming even more critical now. A cynical approach is, of course, that security experts would tell you to buy security software, as it’s their product, but as security problems become a more serious issue, the need becomes more important.

Software environment is also a big factor, because if you’re using your phone over your computer, that’s where you should make sure you’re protected. Fortunately, most security packages offer a mobile version with their solution, but if you want to save a bit of cash, the mobile version by itself is often under $20 for the year, cutting the costs.

However, as good as security software is at preventing the ransomware from taking hold after clicking, education is also critical, because that is one of the main reasons people are clicking, and doing so without thinking.

The simple truth is that ransomware works, at least for cyber criminals, and according to Symantec’s research, ransomware variants are on the increase, with most of the attacks affecting the US, but Australia in the top ten places affected, near the UK, Netherlands, Russia, and Canada.

Some of these ransomware threats are particularly vicious, and you only have to look at Petya or WannaCry to see not just the fallout, but what they do to the mindset of folks who aren’t yet sure about the necessity that is security.

Those were indeed severe threats and attacks, and while security software could have largely helped, education is just as critical, preventing you from clicking because you know what it is and what the email and its file can do.

“Email is one of the most common ways that ransomware is spread, so if something looks dodgy, simply try calling the sender to verify its contents,” said Savvides, advising readers to call the email’s bluff if it looks too good to be true.

“Think twice before opening an email you’re unsure about,” he said, adding “and don’t take its contents at face value. Australians are a favoured target for cyber criminals because we’re seen as laid-back, with money to spend. Don’t be caught off-guard,” he said.

And that’s the important message, because with ransomware working, it’s going to keep happening, and the best form of prevention is to make sure it doesn’t happen to you in the first place.

A technology journalist working out of Sydney, Australia, Leigh has written for publications including The Australian Financial Review, GadgetGuy, Popular Science, APC, PC & Tech Authority, as well as for radio and TV since 2007.

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