Your ransomware wake-up call: be proactive or pay a price
Computers everywhere were besieged on May 12th by WannaCry, a vicious cyber-attack which held users’ files for ransom. Hospitals, businesses, and government agencies across the globe were left scrambling to contain the damage. Now, experts say it’s only a matter of time before we see an even bigger, more destructive attack.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware that takes over your computer and prevents you from being able to access your data unless you pay a ransom.
Typically, the software infects your computer via links or attachments included in a malicious message, also known as a phishing email.
As the name suggests, ransomware is used to hold your files for ransom. It locates your files, encrypts them, and leaves you a message informing you that you will have to pay if you want them decrypted. If you don’t pay, you are quite likely to lose your data forever.
What can you do to prevent an attack?
Above all else, BE CAUTIOUS!
Unfortunately, there is no full-proof way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. However, there are certainly a number of preventative actions you can take to limit your chances:
- Regularly back up your data. Up-to-date backups are the best way to recover your data if you are targeted by ransomware. And consider investing in an external hard drive or a cloud-storage service like Google Drive or Apple iCloud. Although cloud services can still be targeted, Google and Apple have the resources to quickly respond to attacks.
- Don’t ignore those security updates. Get them installed on your computer as soon as possible. If Microsoft releases a patch to fix a security hole, install it! Even better, enable automatic updates if your particular system allows it. Software that isn’t updated is just waiting to fall victim.
- Use antivirus software which will, at minimum, protect you from the most basic, well-known viruses. It’s far from perfect since it won’t catch everything, but it’s better than nothing.
- Do not enable macros. It’s never a good idea to download PDF, Word, or Excel files attached to unrecognisable emails. But, if for some reason, you do choose to open one of these files, you will likely receive a message that you need to enable macros. Just don’t. Close the file and delete it.
- Don’t open any links you find in an unsolicited email. You’re likely to fall prey to a phishing scam. And phishing emails are often used to unleash ransomware.
- Educate your workforce on basic protocol and limit your employees’ network access so they are only able to access the parts of the network that are critical to their jobs.
Be proactive or pay the price
Ransomware demands usually start low (victims of last week’s attack were given ransoms starting at 275 euros), but increase with time. Even small sums can add up.
And, of course, there is no guarantee that once a sum has been paid, the ransomed files will be decrypted. Moreover, paying the ransom means providing your attacker with your bank details, making an already-bad situation worse.
Experts are saying a new era of cyberwar is upon us, with ransomware attacks becoming increasingly sophisticated and more and more common. For this reason, you must take precautions. Following the steps outlined above is a good way to prevent yourself from falling victim.