New Delhi–Ransomware has emerged as the most dangerous cyber threat for both organisations and individuals, with global losses now likely running to hundreds of millions of dollars, a new study says.

Norton by Symantec, one of the global leaders in cyber security software, found that globally, consumers are the most likely victims of ransomware, accounting for 57 percent of all infections between January 2015 and April 2016.

Between January 2015 and April 2016, the US — followed by Canada and Australia — were the countries most affected by ransomware.

Accounting for nine percent of the total infections, India ranked number four globally among the affected countries.

“Ransomware can vary from holding treasured family photos, hijacking unfinished manuscripts for novels, and blocking access to tax returns, banking records and other valuable documents to ransom. Moreover, there is no guarantee that paying the ransom will release those padlocks,” said Ritesh Chopra, Country Manager, Norton by Symantec.

While most major ransomware groups tend to be indiscriminate in their attacks, consumers are often less likely to have robust security in place, increasing the possibility of falling victim.

“The average ransom demanded globally by attackers also saw an upward spike this year. The average ransom demanded to date in 2016 more than doubled from Rs 19,670 in 2015 to Rs. 45,428,” the study highlighted.

The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has multiplied the range of devices that could potentially be infected with ransomware.

“New ransomware variants appear on a regular basis. Always keep your operating system and other software updated. Email is one of the main infection methods. Delete any suspicious-looking email you receive, especially if they contain links and/or attachments,” said Norton by Symantec.

Be wary of any Microsoft Office email attachment that advises you to enable macros to view its content.

Unless you are absolutely sure that this is a genuine email from a trusted source, do not enable macros and instead immediately delete the email.

Backing up important data is the single most effective way of combating ransomware infection, the study noted.