Ransomware is currently one of the most dangerous computer security threats. On a threat level, where 1 is least dangerous and 10 is severe, ransomware scores in the region of 9.9. In the past, cyber crooks would infect computers with malware in the hope of finding something valuable to steal. These days, the modus operandi is to infect a machine or network, encrypt it and demand a ransom from the owner(s) to decrypt/unlock it.
Once ransomware infects a computer system, it encrypts the entire disk or files…videos, photos and all. The only way to unlock the system is to get the decryption key from the creator of the malicious program.
The rise of Bitcoins, an untraceable digital mode of payment, has made ransomware even more popular. Since 2014, the number of ransomware discovered has more than doubled each year.
One of the most notorious ransomware attacks happened in 2015. A Russian hacker named Evgeniy Bogache created ransomware going by the Cryptolocker and unleashed it on the world. By the time it was taken down, victims had paid in excess of $3 million in ransom payments.
So, given the severe risk posed by ransomware, how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim? Check out the tips below.
1. Back-up your files
One way to protect yourself even if your computer gets infected by ransomware is to have a plan B. Back up your files on a regular basis using a cloud application like Google Drive, Dropbox or something similar. This way, even if your local files are encrypted, you will still be able to access them from the cloud. It is also a good idea to back-up regularly to a physical device such as an external hard disk or thumb drive which you can then store in a secure place.
2. Be careful with email attachments & social media
One of the most common ways that ransomware spreads is through email attachments. Never open email attachments from unknown senders. And, use an email scanner that keeps spam out of your inbox. Being careful with attachments extends to your social media network. Trust no one. If a friend on Facebook sends you a file, call them and verify they have actually sent you the file and that their account hasn’t been hacked. Ask them what the contents are before you open it.
3. Show file extensions in Windows
Configure Windows to display file extensions. This way, you can easily take note of suspicious files. Most ransomware have file extensions ending in .scr, .vbs or .exe.
4. Keep your operating system and applications up-to-date
In addition to giving you access to the latest features, program updates are meant to keep you safe from the latest threats. It is, therefore, sensible to keep your operating system and all applications up-to-date. And, more importantly, switch on automatic updates to make sure you don’t miss an important security patch.
5. Use a good antivirus
Install a good antivirus that offers spyware and ransomware protection and keep this up-to-date as well. When buying antivirus software, read the features carefully to ensure it comes with ransomware protection.
6. Cut off the Internet connection
In the unfortunate event that your computer gets attacked while you are working on it and you suddenly notice some rogue and unknown process going on, disconnect your Internet connection immediately. If you are alert and move fast enough, there is a good chance the ransomware did not complete its nefarious process and the encryption key is still intact in your computer. Depending on the strain of ransomware, it may be possible to build the decryption key using special tools.
7. Find out the name of the ransomware
Also, if your computer gets infected, try to find out the name of ransomware. If it’s an older version, there are recovery programs that can decrypt/unlock the machine. Furthermore, the FBI, Interpol and private cyber security companies are in constant collaboration to arrest culprits and provide free decryption services online.
New variants of ransomware are being developed every day and each new one is more sophisticated. But, legal authorities around the world have also made great progress busting up criminal enterprises that run these extortion rings especially in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Finally, if you are unlucky enough to fall victim to ransomware, don’t pay the ransom. Each payment fuels this evil business and so long as there are still people willing to pay, the criminals will keep doing it.