The prospect of a “ransomware” attack, where your device is infected with malware that locks you out of your personal data and files and demands money to potentially unlock them, is a frightening thought to most people. And, these attacks have been on the rise, with nearly 9 million incidents detected by McAfee by the end of 2016 alone.
For instance, you probably heard about the “WannaCry” worm that wreaked havoc earlier this year. Major enterprises such as FedEx, Deutsche Bank, and the U.K.’s National Health Service were all crippled when their Windows computers were infected and payment was demanded in Bitcoin to unlock their data.
Making the matter worse, paying the ransom to regain access to files (and figuring out how to pay in Bitcoin, a hard to trace digital currency) is no guarantee that you will get your information back. The attackers could continue to ask for more money, or never unlock your files under any circumstances. Given the prevalence of ransomware and how difficult it can be to deal with, the smart move is to try to avoid it altogether.
Here are 5 important tips to keep your devices and information safe from ransomware:
1) Backup Your Data—Since paying a ransom to get your data back is often ineffective (and just encourages the attackers) the best preventative measure you can take is to backup your data on a regular basis, just in case you need to wipe your device clean after an attack. Use a backup drive, or backup to the cloud. This way you can easily retrieve all of your important information without paying a ransom.
2) Use strong security—Antivirus software can now block some ransomware attacks by detecting variants of known viruses. Make sure to run regular scans to prevent ransomware and other common threats. And, in the case that you do fall victim, security software can be especially important in making sure your system is clean after the attack, and before you reinstall your data from backup.
3) Keep your software updated—You may remember that WannaCry only targeted outdated Windows software that wasn’t patched with the latest security fixes. This is why it’s imperative that you keep all your software, including mobile apps, up-to-date. This way, attackers have a harder time taking advantage of known vulnerabilities.
4) Be careful where you click—Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many technical tools you have at your disposal; whether attackers are successful or not can depend on your own online behavior. Ransomware attacks can be distributed in phony online ads, email links, social media messages and even via text message. Be skeptical. Don’t respond to messages from strangers or click on links in spam emails.
5) Stay Aware—Cybercrooks are always looking for new ways to trick us out of money and information. Stay informed about the latest ransomware attacks and how to avoid them. Know that businesses are also commonly targeted and that the precautions you take at home should also be applied to your work devices and data.
Although ransomware is a concerning trend, the good news is we can do a lot to counteract these sort of attacks. In fact, over the last year the No More Ransom project, which McAfee is part of, has helped thousands of people recover files that have been encrypted, or locked, by cybercrooks. Of course, your best shot at beating the cybercriminals is to avoid an attack in the first place by following the tips above.