Have you ever been locked out of your house? It’s an embarrassing experience, yes, but never usually more than inconvenience to your schedule.
Now imagine someone with malicious intentions tricked you into going outside, and now they’re left in your home, barring the door and demanding a fee.
No, you haven’t hit your head and awoken in a classic Simpsons episode: this is the cold reality of ransomware and the horrific humiliation and isolation felt by those that fall victim to it — victims like Rakie Ayola, who Doctor Who fans might recognise from the episode Midnight (2008) playing ‘the stewardess’. Ayola was recently locked out of her Instagram account.
People posing as trusted figures of online authority are constantly trying to nab your details, sometimes through pop-ups or emails, and sometimes they come to you directly through private messages.
Ayola was contacted through her Instagram Direct Messages from an account masquerading as Instagram support.
As many ransomware attempts do, this one came with a link that took Raykie away from the official site and it’s inherent defences to a shell site. It’s a bit like the Great Intelligence tricking people into clicking the malicious Wi-Fi connection in The Bells of Saint John (2013).
The main aim of ransomware is to fool the victim into entering their login details in an unsafe location, a place where these details can be harvested and used against their owner.
After Raykie was locked out of her account, her posts started being deleted and she was subsequently contacted and asked to pay a fee in order to access her account again.
The worst part about ransomware is that there is very little that the companies used in the facade can do to help those in trouble, as they are not affiliated or familiar with the software used to affect their foiled users.
The important thing to remember about ransomware is that you should always check the source.
If an account contacts you, out of the blue, and asks you to click a link that’ll take you somewhere else? Don’t click it.
If you get an email or a text that seems convincing but is unexpected or asks you for your personal information, check the source. You must remain suspicious and vigilant.
It’s easy to make an email or a text look good by using the right buzzwords or images, but if you double check the email address or the phone number on Google, you’ll quickly discover more obvious red flags.
Our advantage, as targets of ransomware, is that we are not the first nor the thousandth person that these scams have attempted to hoodwink; we have the power of supreme scepticism to level at every attempt to gain our details.
Ransomware is the evolution of the original junk mail — it is junk mail that has managed to circumvent our traditional adblockers to try and catch us unaware.
Ayola managed to wrest control of her account back from the hackers, but not before a lengthy process that led the BAFTA winner’s agency into trying every possible avenue to regain control.
It’s worth noting that ransomware can hit anything, not just social media. Your PC is just as big a target, if not more so. That’s why it’s important you keep regular back-ups of your system then unplug that back-up after each update; otherwise, hackers could hit that too, rendering it utterly pointless. If you’re not sure, consult a specialist who can advise on what measures you need to take in order to fight ransomware.
Ayola needed the Instagram account in order to keep up her engagement for various charitable causes, but if you’re a causal user, it’s probably best to change all of your other passwords and consider the account compromised for good. Alert all your friends about what has happened so they’re not tricked by cybercriminals into clicking links sent via the compromised account.
You should try to report the account too, so the relevant companies can take it down, lest your old contacts be used to spread ransomware further afield.
Make a new account and let that old one drag that nasty ransomware out onto the irradiated planes of an uninhabited planet.
But we must always remain vigilant, because though its power withers, it always lies in wait.