Ransomware has been a prominent threat to the security of both organizations and individuals for several years, but has just recently become more common and more commonly discussed in the popular press. It sounds like something out of a movie plot, but it is the real deal. Over the past two years, numerous large-scale ransomware attacks have infected computers all over the world, affecting personal computers and tablets at home, as well as large corporate networks. Sony, HBO, FedEx and many other companies have been affected by recent ransomware attacks, just to name a few.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware designed to prevent users from accessing their systems or data unless a ransom is paid. Some ransomware attacks will encrypt data found on a device; others may simply deploy a “lock screen” that prevents the user from accessing their system at all. Personal ransomware attacks may involve capturing embarrassing video or images through a device’s built-in cameras and extorting the user in exchange for not releasing the images on social media. These attacks can come from clicking links on malicious websites, spam emails or other types of exploits that take advantage of unpatched systems. Once a system is infected, the malware may attempt to propagate itself throughout a network, encrypting files along the way. Ransom demands usually involve making payment in the form of digital currencies, such as Ukash and Bitcoin, which can be used anonymously.
How to Prevent Being a Victim of Ransomware
Here are several recommended steps you can take to protect yourself from potential ransomware attacks:
- Be extremely cautious when opening email attachments or clicking on links which seem unusual or unsolicited. Hackers may even send emails that appear to be from people you really do know. If the tone or wording seems off, or if there’s an odd attachment, delete it!
- Update Your Windows Computers: Microsoft releases Windows patches frequently. Be sure to configure your “Windows Update” settings (found in the Control Panel) to automatically install patches as soon as they are available.
- Install and Maintain Antivirus Software
Use a good commercial antivirus system, such as Symantec or TrendMicro on all of your devices, including tablets and phones. Remember, however, that your antivirus software won’t do you any good if it’s not kept up-to-date. Make any updates as soon as they are released.
- Disable cameras
Disable all web cameras when not using them, either by unplugging them physically, or covering them with a bit of masking tape if they are built into the device. Do not assume that turning them off via software settings will prevent hackers from turning them back on and capturing information that may be used to extort you.
- Backup Your Data
Data backups are perhaps the most effective defense against ransomware. Be sure to backup data to a flash drive or other system that is separate and inaccessible by your device. If you leave that flash drive plugged in, a hacker may simply delete or encrypt it as well. Be sure to test your backup media periodically to make sure you can restore your information if need be.
- Contain Viruses
If you believe your computer has been infected, disconnect it from any home or business network to prevent spreading the malware and seek help from a qualified technical professional.