It sounds like the beginning of a thriller: the main character turns on his or her computer, only to discover he or she can’t access any of the files because a hacker has locked it. The main character has a certain amount of time to pay a ransom. Sadly, this isn’t a scene from a movie. It’s a ransomware attack, and it happens every day around the world. You can protect yourself from this scourge, though — back up your files, use the strongest security software on the market, and use safety tactics online.
1. Backup Absolutely Everything on Your System
There are two forms of ransomware. The first form of ransomware encrypts your files (which means hiding them in an unbreakable code so you can’t access them).
Ransomware’s second form is slightly less harmful; it merely locks you out of your computer, but leaves your files intact unless you don’t pay the ransom.
In either situation, there’s a sure-fire way that allows you to access your files even if they’re locked away. It’s called backing up absolutely everything on your system. With backed up files, you don’t have to worry about paying a ransom or fearing that you’ll never see your data again.
That being said, there’s a smart way to back up files and a less smart way to back up files. The smart way to back up files is to save them to either the cloud or to a local network or server that isn’t connected to the internet. Otherwise, hackers can search out backup systems and encrypt or lock those, too. In that case, your backups become useless.
2. Antivirus Software Can Prevent Ransomware
Another step you can take to safeguard your digital information is to install a robust antivirus program on your computer. This is the best tactic because the latest antivirus software on the market provides consumer ransomware protection. Antivirus software keeps you safe from ransomware by defending your files against programs that could encrypt them or lock you out of your computer.
Also, some antivirus software will perform backups for you. It will also block dangerous links in emails or social media messages that could lead to a ransomware infection, and it will prevent your computer from navigating to infected websites.
In addition, the newest generation of antivirus software protects mobile devices, which could be targets for ransomware, too.
3. Double Check Before You Click
One of the most important tools in the ransomware protection arsenal isn’t made up of zeroes and ones. It’s you.
For a start, when you receive an email, check the sender’s address carefully. Hackers frequently use social engineering to convince people to open their emails. They spoof addresses so that the email might look as though it’s coming from a friend, a company, or the government. You think you can trust the sender, so you open the email, and maybe you’ll open the attachment or click on the link. However, if you look carefully at the email address, you’ll realize something is off about it. The sender’s name might be familiar, but the email address itself won’t actually be related to your friend, a company, or the government.
Even if the email address is correct, it’s possible that the sender’s account was hacked. Look at the email carefully. Did your best friend suddenly develop an interest in weight loss? Unless that’s the case, don’t click on the link or open the attachment.
What if it’s a message or posting on social media? You can’t verify the sender in that case, though you can still be careful. If the person or organization posting the link or sending the message is sharing something that sounds like it’s completely out of character, leave the link or attachment alone.
If you receive an email or social media message or see a social media posting from a friend that you believe to be suspicious, let him or her know through another platform. Then, he or she can take steps to secure his or her account.
Ransomware attacks are popular because they’re lucrative. You can make them less worthwhile by taking steps to protect yourself from ransomware attacks. Aside from saving yourself money, you’ll save your data, too.