Ransomware and Your Computer
Ransomware is definitely the most alarming cyber scourge of our time. As time goes on, ransomware attacks on computer business data and personal data files are growing more sophisticated, and the ransom demands continue to increase. Is it even possible to protect yourself from ransomware?
In response to the increasing threat, organizations increase security software, and implement strategies designed to lower the risk to computer systems. And while of course we all want to prevent and avoid ransomware attacks, it’s just as important, and probably even more important, to have a plan to recover if a ransomware attack should it occur. With a ransomware occurring every 36 seconds, it’s no longer a matter of IF you’ll be attacked, but when.
If the data on your computer, photos, documents and emails etc are critical to you then you are best to follow the 3 – 2 – 1 best practice.
What is a Ransomware Attack?
Ransomware is a type of malware that infects your computers (laptops or desktops or NAS etc), encrypting down your files, folders, software, and other systems. Once it has infected your systems, it encrypts all of your data, so you can’t access or use it.
The entity (or idiot as we like to call them) that setup the ransomware then emails you to say that they’ve hijacked your files and demands a payment to decrypt them. Until you’ve paid the ransom, your files are inaccessible. Seriously. You cannot repair this. You cannot decrypt them with some tool without the key that the ransom-er hopefully provides.
Many people or companies pay the ransom, as the loss of all that data could be devastating to their life or business. Ransoms can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
Why is Ransomware so Dangerous?
It’s not just big business that get attacked, but common every day people and small businesses too.
The ransomware people prefer to go after small companies or individuals because they know their security isn’t what it should be. Best to assume you are going to be a target. Ransomware is seriously bad news to all people and sizes of companies. Nobody is exempt.
But ransomware attacks carry other risks than just losing your vital data. It often takes days to thoroughly infect a network of computer systems with ransomware. During that time, the malicious parties have complete access to your files, folders, and financial data, which they could easily steal and sell or use as additional blackmail in a bid to get you to pay twice.
You could pay the ransom, but there are no guarantees that these criminals will keep their word – they’re criminals, after all. It’s feasible that they’ll leak your computer data anyway, even if you’ve met their demands.
5 Tips to Protect Backups from Ransomware
Backing up your computer data is an essential practice. If you experience a ransomware attack and the cybercriminal steals your data, having a recent backup of your data will make it possible for you to recover quickly. Prevent is better than cure. So protect yourself against ransomware by working to detect and stop attacks from happening.
Here are five actionable tips to help you do this:
1. Have Endpoint Security
The security software you choose should be based on how much “pain” an infection would cause you. Ask yourself, “if I lost everything off my computer tomorrow, how would I feel?”
For most users, Windows Defender is sufficient. Despite bad reviews from nerds online, this antivirus program from Microsoft is actually very good. We’ve used it for many years. I suspect most of the complaints stem from a need to look cool by speaking against the industry giant.
If your computer systems are primarily in the cloud, check what security your cloud service has.
Microsoft Defender is a good firewall and virus protection but if you need something a little better, we’d recommend ESET Antivirus or Malwarebytes Antimalware which has morphed into an antivirus program as of a few years ago. Keep in mind, these only go so far. If you, a family member, or an employee receives an email that seems to be legit and opens a malicious link, all the antivirus in the world won’t stem the virus tide. Read on.
2. Learn to Recognize and Avoid Malicious Attacks
Ransomware often enters your laptop or desktop etc through a malicious link in an email or a file you download. It’s easy to say, “don’t open any email links,” but sometimes, the email looks totally legit.
Pause before opening and email and look for the signs of threat – spelling mistakes, odd context, double up email, close but incorrect reply email address.
3. Follow Best Backup Practices
The golden rule of backup is 3 – 2 – 1, i.e., that you should have three copies of your systems on two different media with one stored somewhere else. Many people choose cloud storage for that off-site backup copy, but if you want to protect your backups from ransomware attacks, you’ll also need to have a backup stored offline. Ransomware will only infect files it can access, so the idea is to have a separate backup that isn’t connected at all – truly “off the grid”
4. Monitor Continuously
Ransomware infects the device it’s downloaded onto first and then attacks other computers or devices connected to the network (such as other laptops, desktops and also NAS network attached storage). If you can detect something is wrong, and act quickly enough, you may be able to limit the attack to that one computer and no others. Be quick, pull the power and turn it off. Don’t worry about cleanly shutting it down – speed is much more important. Literally, pull the power if it’s a desktop PC. Or if it’s a laptop, hold down the power button for about 6 seconds until it turns off suddenly.
Consider using our Critical Alerts service if you need to ensure your system is closely monitored for issues.
5. Avoid Long Times Between Backups
Doing your backup frequently is essential if you want to get up and running again from a ransomware attack. Backup should be done whenever there is significant change that reflects a lot of “computer file value”. For example, you just dumped 6 months of photos from your phone onto the computer – that’s time for a backup. Example two, you just reconciled your accounts with Quickbooks Accounting, and it took 5 hours to do this work – time to back up the computer. Example three, your business has completed a day of transactions and work. That was 3 people working on their computers all day, for 8 hours each – that reflects a lot of time. Definitely a good idea to back up at the end of each day, and in that case perhaps consider setting up an hourly backup.
If you want advice on the best backup solution for you - please call.