Imagine you’re a multimedia journalist covering weeks of protests against government corruption in your city. It’s been backbreaking work to document what’s going on – hauling the weight of a small child in equipment. At the end of your shift you go home, pop your memory card in the computer to begin transferring your day’s work, and crash on the couch.
A few hours later you open your computer, eager to send some shots to your editor for the morning headlines except the files aren’t there. Instead of thumbnails depicting your hard-won images, there are thousands of icons that say “Your Computer Has Been Blocked.” And it’s not just that day’s images. Years of your work has been rendered inaccessible by a ransomware attack. You suspect the attack came from an organized crime group loyal to the corrupt government. Either you pay up or the images don’t see the light of day – it’s a win-win for them.
Fortunately for you, an accident with your camera a few years earlier compelled you to invest in some sturdy external hard drives. Even though the day’s photos are lost, the stakes aren’t as high since your life’s work is saved on those hard drives, unaffected by the cyber attack as they’re not connected to the Internet.
This fictional story isn’t far from the truth. In 2019, six photographers in the Indian city of Coimbatore inadvertently downloaded a ransomware file from the cloud service they were using to manage their photos. Ransomware is software that infects your computer with malware and encrypts (“locks”) your data. The attacker then demands you pay exorbitant sums of money to get your data back. In the case of the Indian photographers, ransomers demanded $980 to retrieve the files, but they offered a discount if the photographers paid quickly.
Reporters that traffic large amounts of data, such as multimedia journalists with terabytes of photos, videos, and audio or watchdogs that can have thousands of public documents saved on a hard drive, understand how an entire life’s work can exist on a hard drive.
That’s why it’s important to frequently backup files on disks that don’t stay connected to your computers. Unplug your external backup device once a successful backup is completed.
Use the GCA Cybersecurity Toolkit for Journalists to access tools to assist you in setting up backups for your systems and data.