How to stop scammers from hijacking your hard drive

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To keep your computer safe from this scam and others, industry pros — including NYU professor and tech expert Damon McCoy; Ben Demonte, a managing director of cyber security at risk-assessment firm Kroll; and Kevin Haley, a director of Symantec’s Security Technology and Response division — advise a few simple precautions.

Think before you click. McCoy says that lots of people open the door for malware themselves. “Let’s say you download a certain player to watch a bear dancing on your computer screen,” says McCoy. “You might get the bear — or not. It depends on what [the hackers] want you to see while they are encrypting your files.” Be vigilant about downloading software or updates from trusted sources only.

Cover up. Haley advises covering your computer’s camera lens with dark tape or a piece of colored paper. This prevents a creep from taking over your computer and using its camera to film you in a compromised situation — which could add pressure for you to pay hackers.

Back up your backup. Whether you use a physical, external hard drive or the cloud, try to manually back up your data, Demonte says, rather than relying on automatic backups. If everything’s always connected, hackers can hack into your backup as well. He suggests picking a routine time — say, once a week — to manually back up your data. “That way, if somebody does succeed in encrypting the files on your computer, they won’t get to your backup as well.”

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