Better Business Bureau warns small business owners of recent ransomware attacks on East Texas agencies. Hackers encrypted files and denied access to computers demanding money for recovery rendering them inoperable. Ransomware is a type of malware which targets computer systems, essentially holding files and critical information hostage until the victim receives payment. BBB advises both businesses and consumers to be vigilant in their cybersecurity practices to avoid being hacked.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to ransomware the attacker often fails to hold up their end of the bargain,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas said. “So prevention is the best way to avoid attack.”

In 2019, The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported receiving 2,047 ransomware complaints with losses over $8.9 million.

BBB offers the following tips to mitigate the risk of a cyber-attack:

Change passwords. Make all your passwords long, strong and complex with at least 12 characters, uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid common words, phrases or information in your passwords. Don’t reuse passwords for other accounts. Use multi-factor authentication when available.

Update technology. Make sure you are using the most updated versions of antivirus technology and your router is updated to the most recent version.

Keep critical information separate. If you maintain very sensitive/private information, keep it on a separate computer which is not connected to any network. Limit the number of employees who have access to this information.

Be skeptical. Don’t click on links in emails or download attachments you don’t recognize. Watch out for typos, stilted language, grammatical mistakes, etc. Even if an email looks legitimate, contact the company or organization through another method to verify the source. Many companies have a page on their website to identify known scams being perpetrated in their name.

Hire a professional. Consider hiring a trustworthy IT consultant to perform regular scans and to ensure your software is up to date. Go to bbb.org to find a consultant you can trust.

Should you ever fall victim to a ransomware attack, never pay. Paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee the hacker will return data access. Instead, invest in cyber defenses like stronger anti-malware and backing up critical files. You also may contact your Attorney General’s office, the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the IC3. For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call BBB at 903-581-5704 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.

About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information. There are over 100 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties.