Ransomware primer: The risks and what you can do

Being asked to pay a ransom is an activity usually relegated to action movies or thriller paperbacks. However, if you have ever tried to open a document on a computer only to find that it is encrypted and can only be decrypted for a fee, then you might have experience on this front.

Ransomware, a particularly damaging form of malware, has been around for decades, evolving from something that was once distributed via floppy disks, into a more sophisticated family of threats that spreads over the internet, uses strong encryption and accepts Bitcoin payments. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has estimated that ransomware payments climbed from $24 million in 2015 to a staggering $1 billion in 2016, according to NBC News.

On the bright side, there are concrete steps you can take to reduce your chances of being surprised by ransomware. Here is what you can do to limit your exposure:

Make regular backups

The biggest potential harm from ransomware is the loss of unique copies of important files. Once the threat takes root, it usually encrypts your assets and threatens to throw away the decryption key unless you pay up. Many victims pay because they feel that they cannot risk losing such data.

Regular backups via a solution such as Online Backup from Total Defense give you an out against ransomware. Even if your computer is infected, you can rest a little easier knowing that you have additional copies stored elsewhere.

Ransomware.Are you safe from ransomware?

Look out for phishing schemes

Many ransomware infections start with phishing emails that lure targets into visiting unsafe websites, from which the malware is delivered. Phishing is also increasingly common on social media sites.

Despite their overall efficacy, phishing schemes can usually be spotted by looking for tell-tale signs such as misspelled words in the email body, shortened links, improbable sources (e.g., a government agency such as the FBI, which never communicates with civilians via email) or requests for payments. Resisting the temptation to click on a phishing link dramatically reduces the potential harm from ransomware.

Keep everything updated

Unpatched and outdated software is a goldmine for all malware, including ransomware. Whether it’s Microsoft Windows, Adobe Flash Player or an antivirus suite, any system that lacks the latest security updates is at risk from rapidly evolving threats specifically designed to exploit known weaknesses.

“Unpatched and outdated software is a goldmine for all malware, including ransomware.”

Always upgrade your software when possible. Automatic updating is available for many services, so be sure to take advantage of it so that you get general performance and security improvements along with any emergency patches that address specific vulnerabilities (such as one that Microsoft issued in the wake of the infamous WannaCry/WannaCrypt ransomware).

These best practices will help you keep ransomware at bay, as long as they are combined with the right technical tools. Visit our shop page today to explore your options for backup and internet security solutions from Total Defense.