Hackers are taking hostages in cyberspace and using new methods to extort money from individuals and businesses, according to a news release from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office.


Using ransomware, they can capture and control access to photos or important documents like taxes or legal papers.


“Using a virus, computer files are remotely encrypted and users can no longer view them, unless you pay the hackers for the ‘key’ to unlock the files. Often these criminals demand payment in Bitcoin or some other untraceable form of payment,” according to the release.


The Arkansas Attorney General’s office has been contacted about this growing form of malicious malware that can get installed on a computer or mobile phone without the user even knowing, until they try to access a file that has been locked.


The FBI reports ransomware attacks hit an all-time high in 2016. This virus is masked as an attachment or hyperlink via email or social media messengers and could even come from people you may know. Once a consumer clicks on the attachment or hyperlink, the computer is infected and can spread the malware.


“Hackers are taking control of computers and tools from cyberspace,” Rutledge said in the release. “These are sophisticated criminals from around the world, but there are simple steps individuals and businesses can take to stay protected from these hackers.”


Rutledge released the following steps consumers can take to prevent a ransomware computer attack.


• Back up important files regularly.


• Avoid opening attachments that look suspicious.


• Do not open hyperlinks if you do not recognize the address or it looks suspicious.


• Keep operating systems, antiviruses, browsers and other software up to date.


• Make sure unused wireless connections are turned off.


• If your computer or phone is acting suspicious, disconnect from the internet until it has been diagnosed.


Many anti-virus and computer systems, along with computer technicians, can remove the virus if a computer does get infected. Ransomware attacks should also be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliant Center.


Details: Arkansas Attorney General’s office, 800-482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.