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Local business held hostage by cyber criminals demanding ransom

Ann Freckelton's business was targeted by thieves demanding a ransom in order to no longer be held hostage.

Ann Freckelton has run a successful interior design business in Northern Michigan for years. During that time, she thought she had seen in it all. But what happened to her on June 23rd of this year took her completely by surprise, angered her, and cost her and her partners a fair chunk of cash.

Ann says "it’s no different than coming up and putting a gun in your face and saying give me all your money, but it's even worse because you can't do your business." Ann's business is creating beautiful home interiors but her ability to do that come to a sudden halt. As she explains, "I walked in on Monday, June 23rd and turned on the computer, and went to get into some client's files and nothing would open." She quickly realized this was serious. It wasn't just a case of glitch in her system. She says "we could not access any documents, we could not get into our quick books, emails, we couldn't get into that. Nothing"

They called their computer repairman who came in made a disturbing discovery. Her business had been hacked by a ransomware program. It's like a virus, in that someone remotely put in their computer system, and when activated, it locked everything up. Ann was told that several businesses in Traverse City were targeted and encountered the same problem. None were able to get into their computers and conduct their business. The only way to get back all their files was to pay a ransom to the hackers. In Ann's case, the hackers demanded $810 dollars in bitcoins be transferred into an account. She thought about not paying it, but honestly, she says it would have cost her more in lost business and time to start all over with new files, invoices and orders. So she transferred the ransom money and the cyber hostage takers sent her a pass key to unlock her files.

Ann says "I am so angry about it; it's just not right it’s like being robbed. I don't care that people know we got hacked like that, I just want other people not to experience. It's really frustrating maddening." To make matters worse, it’s almost impossible to catch the people who did this. They could be down the street or across the globe. They hide in cyberspace and have their crime perfected to where its virtually untraceable. Since paying her ransom, Ann has taken steps to make sure this doesn't happen to her business again. She hopes that her loss can be a lesson to others to take steps now to avoid become the victim held hostage.

Ann's computer expert told her that this ransomware attack isn't just targeted to businesses. He says several personal computers have also been taken hostage. Ann's advice is for all of us to get proactive and seek the advice of a computer expert. Ask them steps you should take to avoid going through what she did. One of the things the expert told her was that making daily and weekly backups of all your files is key. But that's not enough. He says that after you make your back up on an external hard drive, it's essentially that you unplug your back up device and leave it unplugged until you are ready to make your next back up. Ann isn't sure how she was targeted. She was told it often has nothing to do with what websites you visit or what you click on while surfing the web.

Ann did file a police report, and is in the process of checking with her insurance company to see if any of her ransom, her expenses in repairing her computer system, or her loss revenue might be covered. But she says she isn't overly optimistic that she will get her money back or that the people who held her hostage will ever be caught.

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