You may have heard of WannaCry, which caused the largest cyber attack in history. Last May it infected more 200,000 computers in less than a few hours. WannaCry was a type of malware called ransomware. It didn’t simply infect computers, it encrypted files on these devices and demanded users pay a ransom to decrypt them.
Imagine forever losing access to important business information or irreplaceable personal mementos. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What Exactly Is Ransomware and How Does It Infect Computers and Mobile Devices?
There are two types of ransomware: encrypting and locking.
Encrypting ransomware is the most common. It uses computer algorithms to lock files on your device, and possibly even those on cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive. The only way to unlock these files is to provide a key, which the attacker promises to give you upon the receipt of money. The attacker will often require funds in a digital currency, such as Bitcoins, making such transactions untraceable and nonrefundable.
Locking ransomware locks you out of your device, at the operating system level or even before the operating system loads. The effect is basically the same as encrypting ransomware: you’re locked out of your files.
Ransomware can infect your device in a number of ways. It can attack you through email attachments and links to malicious sites. It can attack you through vulnerabilities in your software. It can even attack you through hijacked websites and Internet redirects. And these are just some of the most common means.
What’s more, your anti-virus software alone might not protect you.
How Do You Avoid Ransomware Attacks
Here are 5 tips for avoiding ransomware attacks:
Take the Threat Seriously
The most important thing you can do is understand that you can be a victim. It can happen to you, and it will if you don’t take computer security seriously.
Backup Your Data
If you have important files, don’t just keep one copy of them. In fact, you should make at least 2 copies of it. One on an external hard drive not connected to the Internet and the other on a cloud service. Furthermore, do not stay permanently connected to the service, otherwise, ransomware can encrypt these files as easily as it encrypts local files. Instead, turn it on just when you need it.
Also, consider using one of the many backup services on the Internet. Some of them are even free depending on how much disk space you need.
Keep Your Software Updated
Make sure that your operating system has the latest updates, especially security updates. You need to keep any anti-malware software you use updated as well. And if you don’t have anti-malware software, get it. You should also consider installing traffic-filtering tools and an ad-blocker, to block potentially malicious ads.
Limit Access to Malware on Your Device
There are many ways you can limit access to malware on your device. This includes using a non-administrator-level account for normal use, turning off macros in Microsoft Office applications, and removing old and outdated plugins and add-ons from your browser.
You may also want to remove (or restrict) plugins such as Flash, Java, and Silverlight.
Change How You Use the Internet
You should never open email from senders you don’t recognize, and you should certainly never download an attachment from a suspicious email. Nor should you click on any links within it.