This is the year that Ransomware became big business. Previously attacks tended to be launched by groups of hackers and geeks, producing their own brand of malware and spamming it to users. Now it has become an organised multi-million pound criminal business, where gangs without any technical know-how pair with the geeks for targeted attacks on businesses and governments, and share the profits.
A report by Kaspersky Lab looked at how ransomware has developed over the past 12 months. It found that attacks are on the rise - up 11% in a year to almost 2.6 million around the world.
High profile attacks have hit the headlines in the past 12 months too, including the WannaCry attack that took down systems in a number of NHS Trusts, and an attack that hit UCL in London in June. Financial institutions are increasingly under threat too - because criminals can demand enormous ransoms.
Should you be worried?
For the average user, it might be tempting to breathe a sign of relief that ordinary users are not the primary targets any more. However, there are several reasons why this would be unwise. First, just because attacks on businesses are growing faster, it doesn't mean that individuals are off the hook. In fact, the number of individual PCs under attack continues to rise,
In addition, having our banks and favourite shops attacked is every bit as worrying as facing an attack ourselves. There's no knowing what information they are privy to when they attack an institution. And where a business is forced to hand over hundreds of thousands of pounds in ransoms, there's only one place that extra money is going to be coming from - its customers.
It's also worth bearing in mind that while we can take steps to secure our own computers and phones against ransomware, by buying reputable virus protection, and keeping it updated, it's much harder to guarantee that every business we use is taking equally effective measures.
The report also highlighted that by developing an effective business model, the criminals have ensured that these attacks are enormously profitable for them. It means that more criminals will be drawn to the arena, and the number of attacks is going to continue to increase.
Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of web security firm, High-Tech Bridge has an even bleaker view, adding: "Law enforcement agencies lack coordination on the global and even national level, and face a serious shortage of the necessary resources to fight this emerging niche of cybercrime. Bitcoin and other digital currencies virtually guarantee untraceability to the attackers. Users will probably not change their careless behaviour, and will continue to pay ransom to get their data back for practical and pragmatic reasons. Therefore, ransomware will likely to continue its impressive growth over the next few years."
It seems, therefore, that it's essential to protect ourselves, to invest in virus protection, and make sure we back up regularly, so that if the worst comes to the worst and we are locked out of our PC, we have a way to retrieve all the data we lost in the attack.
Victims of scams and fraud
Victims of scams and fraud
Susan Tollefsen, Britain's oldest first time mother, was scammed out of £160,000 by a fraudster she met on an online dating site. A man claiming to be an Italian gold and diamond dealer told her he was in the middle of a land deal but couldn't access cash. Tollefsen felt sorry for him and started wiring him money, eventually selling her jewellery, her flat and borrowing £32,000 from friends to give him. Read the full story here.
In March 2015 an American woman who was only identified as 'Sarah' went on the popular US television programme the Dr Phil Show to reveal she had sent $1.4 million to a man that she had never met. Although she was certain she wasn't being scammed, her cousin made her go on the programme because she was convinced it was a scam. Find out more about the story here.
Maggie Surridge employed Lee Slocombe to lay a £350 deck in her garden in March 2015. However Slocombe used a combination of lies to scam Surridge out of thousands of pounds. He told Surridge that the front and back walls were dangerous and needed rebuilding and also conned her into building a porch, all for the cost of £8,500. Read the full story here.
It's not just individuals who can be the victims of scams, big corporations can also fall foul of these fraudulent practices. In 2015 Claire Dunleavy repeatedly used a 7p 'reduced' sticker to get significant amounts of money off her shopping at an Asda store in Burslem, ending up with her paying just £15.66 for a shop that should have cost £69.02. Read the full story here.
Sylvia Kneller, 76, was conned out of £200,000 over the space of 56 years thanks to scam mail. The pensioner became addicted to responding to the fraudsters, convinced that she would one day win a fortune. Ms Kneller would receive letters claiming she had won large sums of money but she needed to send processing fees to claim her prize. Learn about the full story here.
Leslie Jubb, 103, became Britain's oldest scam victim in August last year when he was conned out of £60,000 after being sent an endless stream of catalogues promising prizes in return for purchasing overpriced goods. The extent of this con was discovered when Mr Jubb temporarily moved into a care home and his family discovered what he had lost. Find out more about this story here.
Stephen Cox won more than £100,000 on the National Lottery in 2003 but has been left with nothing after falling victim to two conmen. The 63-year-old was pressured into handing over £60,000 to the men who told him his roof needed fixing. They walked him into banks and building societies persuading him to part with £80,000 of cash while doing no work in return. See the full story here.
Last year the Metropolitan Police released CCTV footage of a woman who had £250 stolen at a cash machine in Dagenham. The scam involved two men distracting the woman at the machine, pressing the button for £250 then taking the money and running away. Read about the full story here.
Rebecca Ferguson shot to fame as a runner up on the X-Factor in 2010 but fell victim to a scam artist last year when someone she had believed to be a friend conned her out of £43,000. Rachel Taylor befriended the singer in 2012 and claimed to be a qualified accountant, so Ferguson allowed her to look after her finances. Instead of doing this Taylor stole £43,000 from the Liverpudlian singer. Read more here.
When Rebecca Lewis discovered her fiance had started a relationship with a woman he met online she packed her bags to leave. But that didn't stop her checking out the mystery woman, Rebecca quickly realised Paul Rusher's new love was actually part of a romance scam. She told Paul just before he sent the scammers £2,000 which was supposed to bring his new girlfriend to England. Find the full story here.