There have been increasing reports of users being infected with ransomware. In short, it is a form of malware and once you are infected, you will not be able to view or edit files and you can only unlock them by paying a ransom to the hackers. One of my client's computers was infected. Even police stations and medical institutions in smaller USA towns have paid ransoms due to their limited resources to crack the codes.
There are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
- ALWAYS check the email address of the sender. See here for more details.
- Refrain from clicking hyperlinks in email content or opening attachments unless you are absolutely sure they are from legit sources. If you are using a desktop, you can do a 'hover' test: place your mouse over the link without clicking and you should see the web address displayed in a popup or at the bottom status bar. If the web address looks suspicious (e.g. http://x.co/bx2e, http://bigmoney.com/for-you-only, etc.), do not click it.
- Never reveal your email account name or password to any website in any situation. You may receive an email that says your email account is over the disk space quota. Do not trust it. If in doubt, call your technical support.
- Do not unsubscribe from any spam emails. That will only let spammers know that your email account is active and it will usually lead to more spams. Similarly, do not load images in emails automatically because that will also reveal active accounts. Just ignore them and over time, these spams should stop appearing.
- Perform software updates (e.g. Windows, Antivirus, Adobe, etc.) as prompted.
- Backup important data periodically to an external hard disk or thumb drive. Assuming you are not using a version control system, just copy and paste new versions instead of overwriting old ones.