The recent ‘WannaCry’ ransomware cyber-attack hit over 150 countries around the globe, with the biggest casualty in the UK undoubtedly being the National Health Service.
In a ransomware attack, a victim’s computer is infiltrated, files are encrypted and a demand for money is made. The only way to decrypt the files is to pay the ransom (an extortionate amount) and hope the cyber-criminals keep their word.
Cyber security has never been more important. Thankfully, there are several inexpensive and simple steps that anyone can take to avoid becoming a victim of ransomware.
1. Be Careful — The simplest step is often the one that people overlook. Most ransomware requires the victim to perform an action to activate it, such as clicking a link or opening a file. Don’t interact with anything that looks suspicious, even if it appears to come from a friend or family member.
2. Make Regular Backups — Backups on external hard drives are essential. They’re relatively inexpensive (costing far less than paying a ransom demand) and will allow you to keep a copy of your important files and documents. Don’t keep these hard drives plugged in at all times; otherwise, they could become infected too.
3. Disable Autoplay — Autoplay can be very convenient when trying to open a file type that you’re familiar with. However, hackers can often disguise a virus as a regular media file, so you’re best not letting your computer open them automatically.
4. Stay Secure — Stay away from dodgy websites (for example, piracy-based websites) and always have firewall and anti-virus programs running in the background. Even free programs are better than nothing and some of them are actually pretty good, for example AVG and Avast.
5. Install Updates — Don’t ignore updates for your programs and operating system — they’re often there to patch out security vulnerabilities and combat new threats.
6. Enable File Extensions — This will allow you to always know what a file actually is before opening it. Windows operating systems have this feature turned off by default. Enabling it will help you to notice odd file types that could contain something malicious.
7. Don’t Pay — More often than not, hackers won’t hold up their end of the bargain. Paying them sends a clear message that you can be victimised, and could also fund future criminal activities.
8. Stay Informed — Read up on the latest news about ransomware, viruses and cyber-attacks so you’re always 100% informed and prepared.
9. Make a Plan — If your computer or device does become infected, immediately disconnect from the internet. Also, don’t pull the power or restart — this could actually help the ransomware spread further.
10. Seek Expert Assistance — There are many websites dedicated to decrypting files that have been encrypted by ransomware. Not all types of ransomware can be fixed, but it’s certainly worth trying to find a decryption key before giving up and restoring a backup.