As ransomware attacks rise, these 5 tips may help protect you

David Pollino
Posted by David Pollino

Maybe I’m a cyber-security nerd, but once a month I like to back up my computer — on an external hard drive and in the cloud. While a long bike ride or trail run may help my Bay Area neighbors unwind, nothing helps me sleep better at night than a good hard-drive backup.

Close-up of male hacker working on computerWhy? Because backing up the contents of computers may be one of the best ways to protect against the growing threat of ransomware.

Ransomware attacks were up more than 400% in the third quarter of 2015 compared to a year earlier, according to Intel’s security research group McAfee Labs. The recent attack on Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center highlights the risk to businesses and individuals from these types of scams.

How attacks happen

In a ransomware attack, criminals install malware on a device or network that uses encryption to lock files. The criminals then demand payment — frequently through Bitcoin — in order for the victim to regain access to the files being held hostage. Criminals prefer Bitcoin because it’s easy to use, fast, publicly available, decentralized, and provides a sense of heightened anonymity.

Attacks usually begin when an employee or individual visits an infected website or clicks on an infected popup ad, email, or email attachment.

Beyond the ransom, which is usually $200 to $10,000, victims may also face costs of network mitigation, network countermeasures, loss of productivity, legal fees, IT services, and the purchase of credit monitoring services for employees or customers.

Routinely backing up the contents of computers is not only a best practice for computer security, it also helps reduce the effectiveness of a ransomware attack. If you have access to copies of your entire computer’s content on an external hard drive and in the cloud, then there is no need to pay a ransom to an attacker.

4 additional tips

In addition to frequently backing up computer content on an external hard drive and in the cloud, here are four other ways to help protect you and your business against ransomware:

  • Install antivirus software and a firewall from a reputable company.
  • Use automatic updates to help ensure you business’s antivirus software and firewall are protecting you against the most current threats.
  • Enable popup blockers on your web browser to help avoid accidental clicks on popups, which are used routinely by criminals to spread malicious software.
  • Educate employees about the risks and train them to be suspicious of unsolicited emails and avoid clicking on links or attachments in emails.

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  • Anonymous says:

    I am a technology professional with nearly 40 years experience and I can say that this is absolutely real. I have had one customer and one friend fall victim to this in the past year and both ended badly, mainly for lack of current backups.

    In the case of the customer there were automatic backups in place but they had stopped working nearly nine months before the fatal event. They chose not to pay the ransom because at the time these data bandits had a 50/50 track record for actually providing the encryption key once the ransom was paid. They lost 9 months worth of business records and a considerable amount of time for their business.

    In the case of the friend she was happy enough that the pictures she treasured most were on her phone. We blew her machine away and reloaded from scratch…she still lost a number of personal documents.

    Two tips: 1 BACKUP your data EVERY DAY! 2. NEVER click on any popup or email link if it either scares you or tantalizes you….BOTH are lies!!!

    Reply | 4 years ago

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