Data thieves are getting wiser and more technical, and that means heightened threats to personal and company information. Cryptojacking, sophisticated malware, spyware, ransomware, Trojans- you name them- have become the new weapons of mass destruction (in the digital world, that is). Businesses and other organizations, as well as private citizens, can no longer depend on simple antivirus protection to keep data spies at bay. We can only counter these weapons through awareness and knowledge; knowing how they occur and how to prevent them beforehand. That is why this article focuses on ransomware attacks: What they are and how to prevent your digital infrastructure from them.
What is ransomware? Simply put, ransomware is cyber-attack software that holds your personal and important files at ransom, until you pay the sum of money the attackers demand. These ransom payments are in most cases demanded in digital assets such as cryptocurrency. Attackers will demand that you buy Bitcoin, for example, and do a transfer to their untraceable accounts.
Unlike other malicious software, ransomware doesn’t steal or copy your data but instead encrypts some files in your computer so that you are unable to access your own files. They make it nearly impossible to recover affected data unless the attacker’s demands are met in totality, after which you are sent a decryption key. It is like a burglar breaking into your house, collecting all your valuables, and instead of stealing them, he locks them in a room or a safe within your house and then leaves with the key. If you can’t unlock the safe or room, your only option is to do as the burglar says.
With that understanding, how can you stay safe from ransomware attacks?
1. Don’t engage attackers in any way without consulting a trusted IT expert first
This tip might not help you recover the ransomed data, but it will help you keep the rest of your digital files safe. So, if the attackers call demanding that you provide them with some personal information in exchange for the decryption key, please dismiss them immediately. Don’t download or install any software they recommend. Don’t pay the ransom because there is no guarantee that you will receive the decryption code. They are criminals, after all. In fact, don’t reply to any of their text messages or even click on their emails.
The best thing to do immediately upon learning of the attack is to contact a trusted IT expert (or your IT department if company files are attacked) for expert advice.
2. Backup your data regularly
Take regular backups of your data and keep it under lock and key. This keeps cybercriminals guessing. If there are no files in your computer to hold at ransom, cyber attackers will have no business corrupting your computer. Some attackers choose to lock victims’ operating systems when they find no data to hold hostage, but it’s better to deal with a locked OS than locked data, especially if that data is confidential. Client data, for example, can precipitate unwanted losses, reputation damage, and lawsuits if held hostage.
3. Avoid clicking links in spam emails or on unfamiliar websites
How does malicious ransomware get in your computer to begin with? Mostly, attackers trick you into downloading malicious smartphone apps, clicking spam emails, and downloading corrupted images or videos from unauthentic sources. You will stay safe from ransomware attacks by staying away from unnecessary downloads. Even when you need to download software or apps, be sure to confirm the authenticity of your sources.
4. Protect your remote connections
For businesses that allow flexible working, don’t forget to protect your remote workforce. Most remote collaborations happen via personal devices that, if unprotected, can make the entire system vulnerable. You should invest in Nord VPN, a virtual private network service provider, to keep all your office tech equipment as well as employees’’ connected devices secure. This VPN has desktop applications for Linux, Windows, and macOS operating systems. For people using iOS or android smartphones, you can trust NordVPN to secure your mobile apps.
It is best to avoid public Wi-Fi at airports and restaurants but if you have to, ensure that you use a trustworthy, secure VPN.
Other safety tips:
- Keep your computer software up to date
- Do not open email attachments from suspicious senders
- Use an advanced, dynamic antivirus protection to help you identify malicious activity early enough.
- Make sure your computer has a strong, hard-to-crack password
Ransomware attackers used to target large-scale companies, but they are now targeting everybody including private citizens and small businesses. Some are just malicious people who are happy to see you suffer even if they don’t get anything from your woes. That is why you have to stay aware and ready to repel them before they access your system.