You may have heard the term “Ransomware” floating around recently in technology forums or on the news. So, what is it? A particularly pervasive form of malicious software (or malware), Ransomware is designed to hold people’s computer system and files hostage for a ransom.
Ransomware cybercriminals usually promise the safe return of victims’ files in exchange for money, but don’t take their word for it. More often than not, the data will remain inaccessible even if you hand over the cash. These are criminals, after all.
So, how can you avoid falling victim to this malware infestation? Here are 10 tips for protecting yourself and your valuable data from a Ransomware attack.
- Know before you click. Ransomware is often spread through phishing emails, texts from unknown senders or enticing links on infected websites or pop-ups. Be vigilant about clicking on unknown links or opening unsolicited attachments. Not sure if an email or instant message is legit? Call the company and ask. Check the sender to see if the email address looks authentic. Phishing emails often contain noticeable grammatical and spelling errors, misplaced punctuation or outlandish claims. When in doubt, check it out first.
- Take advantage of spam filters. All email providers offer spam filtering, so make sure you enable these filters. This should prevent the majority of phishing emails and other threats from ever hitting your inbox.
- Disable HTML in your e-mail. Ransomware can also be coded into the body of an HTML message. When you open or view the message in the preview window, the malware can be installed automatically. To prevent this, it’s best to disable HTML and preview your emails in TXT form.
- Examine email attachments before opening. The majority of malware is downloaded to your computer by clicking on infected email attachments. While many email programs block dangerous file types before you receive them, it’s important to look at the file extension before opening an email attachment. Examples of dangerous file types are: EXE, COM, BAT, CMD, SCR and PIF. Be sure that you check ALL file extensions on an attachment—as Ransomware criminals may try to hide a dangerous extension right after a safe one.
- Keep all software and systems up-to-date. The battle against malware is ongoing, so it’s imperative that you regularly install any system updates or patches to keep your data safe. Windows, Mac and other applications regularly send out updates to block known Ransomware attacks, but these patches only work if installed before exposure. Have trouble remembering to update your computer? No problem. Just configure your device to automatically install the latest updates.
- Back it up. Some of your most important documents, images and memorabilia reside on your computer. That’s why it’s essential to keep a good backup of your files. External hard drives offering ample storage are easy to find and quite affordable these days. So, save your future self a lot of heartache by regularly backing up your files.
- Antivirus software is a must. Is your computer protected by reputable security software? If not, now’s the time. Installing and regularly updating antivirus software from a reliable company is critical to your data security plan. Computer security programs can be purchased from software stores or through your Internet service provider. You can also find free antivirus software online. A few proven options are: AVG , Avast! and Bitdefender .
- Use a firewall. A firewall is like the coded gatekeeper of your computer. This programming secures your device from all unauthorized network access, unless you give programs or contact requests permission. In concert with your antivirus software, a firewall is your best defense against internet attackers.
- What to do with infected files. Your anti-virus program will usually inform you via pop-up window if an infected file has been identified. If possible, rid yourself of the threat by just deleting the entire file. Need to save it? It’s sometimes possible to remove a virus from infected files, but your data may be damaged beyond repair. That’s why it’s important to keep backups of all your important files.
- Beware of unsecured Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi can make working and studying as easy as 1-2-3. Unfortunately, an unsecured Wi-Fi connection also gives hackers easy access to your information, even allowing them to install infected software on your computer. If you must use public internet, be sure to:
- Employ an internet security solution that will scan for potential holes in your security
- Turn off sharing
- Use a VPN or SSL connection when possible
- Turn off public Wi-Fi when not in use
Ransomware can be devastating to not only your personal computer, but the network you are connected to. But you don’t have to fall victim to cybercriminals’ designs. Being informed goes a long way, as well as investing the time to protect yourself and your data.
Interested in learning more about the burgeoning Cybersecurity industry or pursuing a career in the field? Ensign College offers degrees and certificates that can start you on the path to helping others protect themselves and their information in this fast-paced digital world.