In an age of cloud storage, password key chains, and accounts linked to financial information, it is critical for businesses and individuals to safeguard their data. ESET reports as of April 2016 that ransomware makes up one quarter of all cyber-attacks in the UK, and that number is on the rise.
Ransomware is malware that targets data in which the attacker encrypts the victim's data and demands payment for the decryption key.
Now more than ever, electronic devices from smartphones to tablets to computers are connected to the internet, and can be traced to IP addresses. The IP address is how ransomware attackers are gaining access to data.
Because there are people out there looking to profit off of your misfortune and encrypted or stolen information, it is important to make sure that your data is protected and backed up, so that you do not fall victim to a ransomware scam.
Here are five tips to keep your data protected:
Backup your data on a regular basis
This might seem obvious, but it is not always a priority. If anything should happen—a cyber-attack, hardware malfunction or other issue—you have a copy of everything on your external hard drive, ready to be accessed whenever needed. Ransomware attackers target your data and demand payment to prevent the destruction of your data. If you have everything backed up, the attacker loses all leverage. Today, a terabyte of memory can be purchased for a very reasonable price and fit into the palm of your hand, so storage should not be an issue.
Show hidden file extensions
People download files from the internet all of the time. They come in emails, as plugins to run applications on browsers, and some are even applications themselves. One common way that ransomware attackers operate is by relying on Windows' default behavior of hiding file extensions. Be sure to change your settings so that you can see the extensions on files. If you can see the extensions on these files, it will be easier to identify the ones that may be trying to steal or encrypt your data. Look for files that have the extension .EXE as these are typically malware files.
An innovative tool to help people conduct business from afar can also allow attackers into your computer. If you are a Windows user, a utility called Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) allows other people to see and manipulate your desktop remotely. If you do not need to use RDP, be sure to disable it in order to keep any unwanted guests out of your computer.
Update your software
Running outdated software is practically an invitation for any kind of malware attack. Software is updated to patch errors that have allowed attackers to access and steal data. The more outdated your software, the more open portals for malware attackers to get into your system. One way to ensure that your software is current is to enable automatic updates.
Kill your internet connection
If you ever spot a suspicious process on your computer, disconnecting your device from the internet can stop the malware from contacting its Command and Control server. If the software cannot reach the server, it cannot carry out its encryption process, and thus cannot hold your data hostage. Catching this process early is key in protecting your information in this instance.
No security system is perfect, and the nature of technology is that it is always accessible and constantly evolving. It is important to remain hyper-vigilant when it comes to protecting data and information. Antivirus software exists to protect you from cyber attacks, but hackers are constantly working to break through firewalls and steal data. Be sure to use these tips, and do your own research on how to best protect your files from ransomware and other types of malware attacks.
For more tips on how to protect yourself against ransomware attacks, click here.