Ransomware – the newest and most insidious malware that wrests control of a device or data and demands payment for its return – is unfortunately on the rise. Though early studies initially predicted a drop in ransomware’s popularity in 2014 and 2015, 2016 brought an unexpected resurgence in the malware that had millions of individuals and businesses scrambling.
The likely reason behind ransomware’s renaissance is its infiltration of more devices: Macs, smartphones, and even IoT tech are being hit with ransomware attacks, giving cybercriminals more opportunities to make quick cash.
It is more important than ever that consumers protect themselves against ransomware – if not to safeguard their data and devices than to dissuade malicious hackers from further galvanizing the dangerous technique. The following six tricks should keep any device safer from the risks of ransomware.
1. Backup Often
Ransomware isn’t the only threat to data; users could lose everything on their devices’ hard drives in the time it takes to upend a beverage or trip over a crack in the sidewalk. However, ransomware is perhaps a more compelling reason to back up data often and to several sources.
Experts advise computer users to use at least two backups: one based in the cloud and one on a physical external hard drive. The former is more convenient but also more susceptible to attack – especially since hackers have begun developing cloud-specific malware in recent years – so having multiple backups is ideal.
2. Update Often
Operating system and software updates are inconvenient, but opting out of updating puts devices at serious risk. Every update comes with security patches and improvements that work to keep devices safe from emerging threats, which means outdated versions are more susceptible to infiltration by ransomware or other malware.
Whenever users see an available update, they should take a break and allow the update to download and install, or else ransomware could creep in through vulnerable software.
3. Limit Your Privileges
There are several different types of ransomware, but the most common take control of a device through the current user’s account. Unfortunately, most users use the default account, which often has administrator privileges the ransomware abuses to its advantage. However, it is easy enough to thwart ransomware’s use of admin abilities: Don’t use admin accounts. The process for creating a new local account is surprisingly quick and easy, though the precise steps depend on whether a user has a Mac or a Windows PC.
4. Control Your Activity
Ransomware tends to infiltrate devices with the same tactics as other malware: primarily through spam emails, corrupted software files, and hacked webpages. Thus, to stay safe from ransomware, users must be exceedingly careful concerning their use of their devices. Here are some smart rules for device activity:
- Check the file extension before clicking. Ransomware (and other malware) often hides as one type of file, like an image, when it is really an executable file. Any .exe. downloads should be from trustworthy sources and users should never use Autoplay to launch files.
- Never use unfamiliar USB drives. Malware can spread through physical connections, too.
- Avoid opening email from unknown senders. Even if the subject is something eye-catching or important-seeming, users should be wary of unfamiliar emails.
- Avoid clicking links or downloading files in suspicious emails or on suspicious websites.
- Turn off Bluetooth and wireless connections unless in use.
- Disconnect devices from local networks unless in use.
5. Use Anti-Ransomware Tools
In addition to controlling their data and behavior, users should rely on proven anti-ransomware tools to keep them safe. Paid consumer ransomware protection is the most reliable security software; though it does come with costs, unlike some free security software available online, it is backed by guarantees and the experience of thousands of security professionals who have devoted their lives to keeping users and devices safe. Online freeware could very well be laced with the same ransomware it promises to guard against.
Additionally, users should ascertain that their operating system’s firewall is active. Though it may seem like an old-fashioned security measure, a firewall is simply one more layer of protection that ransomware must overcome to infect a device, which makes firewalls advantageous in the fight against malware.
6. Respond Appropriately During Attack
Considering the complexity and aggressiveness modern hackers employ, it isn’t inconceivable that users will still succumb to a ransomware attack even with stringent security measures in place. The damage done to data and a device during a ransomware attack will depend on the type of ransomware; though some users will never recover what they lost, others may be able to resume business as usual with the following response plan:
- Contact security professionals. Users who have anti-malware protection may have access to a hotline where professionals can lend expert advice.
- Use a post-ransomware tool. This fast-acting, targeted anti-virus software identifies the file harming the device and erases all traces of it, reversing any changes made to the device and hopefully restoring missing data.
- Run additional anti-malware checks. Malware often leads to other malware, so users should scour their device for additional issues that might threaten their data.
Even if a security professional and specialized software cannot reinstate lost information, users should never be tempted to paying a hacker’s ransom. For one, there is no guarantee that paying the sum will return the data; for another, giving cybercriminals what they want only encourages them and those like them to continue perpetrating illegal acts.