Ransomware allows hackers to take control of your devices and data, holding it for ransom. If you want to regain access to your device and your files, hackers will say, you’ll need to pay us.
These kinds of attacks are growing more common, too. And don’t think for a second that you should just pay the ransom. You might not even get your data back — you can’t exactly leave the hackers a bad Yelp review if they don’t follow through with their promise to restore your data. If you don’t get your data back, you could end up spending more money to try and have the files recovered, remove the malware from your machine, and secure your system.
It’s better to protect yourself from ransomware attacks so you don’t have to deal with a messy cleanup process and the potential loss of valuable and even irreplaceable data. Follow these five steps to keep ransomware attacks at bay.
1) Backup Your Data
If you have your important data backed up in multiple places, you don’t have to worry so much about hackers taking control of the data on a single device. There are plenty of free cloud storage backup options available these days, and if you have a smartphone or an email account with a provider like Google or Microsoft, you likely already have access to cloud storage and your devices may even be automatically backing up your photos, documents, and work files.
Cloud storage isn’t inherently safe from ransomware itself — hackers can and may target those servers to get big payouts from the companies that run them — but if you’re targeted by hackers as an individual, having your data in cloud storage will at least mean that they won’t actually have any leverage just because they’ve taken control of one or more of your devices. If you’re concerned about the vulnerabilities of cloud storage, or have files that can’t be entrusted to cloud storage, make sure you backup your data regularly on an external hard drive or USB thumb drive.
2) Use a Comprehensive Antivirus Solution
If you haven’t yet upgraded from the most basic, free version of your antivirus software, it’s time to consider shelling out for a paid service. A paid antivirus program will most likely offer enhanced protection against malware, like ransomware protection and live removal support from an actual human being.
You’ll also get bells and whistles that will make it easy to avoid phishing attacks, spam emails, malicious websites, and other sources of malware and ransomware. Parental controls, firewall protection, device monitoring, and other security features may also be included, and you’ll generally get a smoother, easier-to-use interface, too.
3) Know Your Network
Who’s coming and going on your network? What devices are connected to it? Are there smart devices, tablets, phones, or laptops that you don’t recognize using your network?
You need to know this stuff, especially if you have a lot of smart devices in your home. Each one of your connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices could provide a wide-open backdoor for hackers to enter your network. Choose an antivirus program that allows you to keep tabs on which devices are connected to your network.
4) Screen Your Emails Carefully
Scammers still rely heavily on phishing emails to get their malicious software programs onto users’ computers, and you can definitely accidentally install some ransomware on your computer if you click the wrong link in the wrong email or open the wrong attachment.
It’s safest if you have a strong spam filter than can keep phishing emails from getting to your inbox to begin with, because these fraudulent emails are getting more sophisticated, and all it takes is a moment’s indiscretion to fall for some of them. Get into the habit of checking each email you receive for signs of a phishing scam.
5) Install Your Updates
Manufacturers release software updates for devices for a reason — these updates often contain, among other things, security patches that can protect your system against known ransomware and malware. Install system updates as soon as they’re available, and replace your devices regularly — including your router or gateway, which you should replace every three to four years.
A ransomware attack could mean losing precious data forever. Protect yourself, so you can tell data-nappers to pound sand.