10 Ways to Prevent Ransomware Hacks Amid the Global Attack
An unprecedented “ransomware” attack has hit tens of thousands of organizations in 150 countries around the globe. Victims of this epic attack include Britain's National Health Service, universities, and delivery company FedEx. In these types of attacks, cyber-criminals infiltrate a computer, lock or encrypt sensitive files, and hold them hostage until the owner pays a ransom. If the victims don't pay, it's almost certain they will never get their data back. The good news: A few relatively simple, inexpensive precautions can dramatically reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
Related: 10 Ways to Protect Your Identity and Data Online
Cyber-crooks have far less leverage if they're trying to deny access to something you have backed up on a hard drive in the sock drawer. Back up files regularly on a physical drive such as the well-reviewed 2T Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim external hard drive, which sells for $90 on Amazon. It's a lot less than a data kidnapper will demand in ransom payments.
People are naturally curious. They find a flash drive, assume someone accidentally dropped it, and can't stop themselves from wondering what interesting, scandalous, or secret things they might find, or think they just got something for free. But hackers have been known to drop infected flash drives in public places for just this reason. When people plug in a mysterious flash drive to satisfy their curiosity, they inadvertently do the hackers' work for them. In an age when flash drives can cost less than $5 each, snatching up a free one isn't worth the risk.
The best anti-ransomware defense is layered, with simultaneous use of the big three: antivirus applications, firewalls that block unauthorized access, and web filtering software that can guide users away from a constantly changing list of dangerous sites (and keep them off-limits to kids). Make sure the firewall is turned on; PC users who want more than what's built in to Windows can buy a security solution with a firewall starting at $30. And Avast Software has a free antivirus solution that offers more features than many commercial ones, according to PC Magazine.
For absolutely free protection, accept and install all updates to computer operating systems, browsers, and plug-ins as soon as they arrive. (Thousands of organizations failed to do so and left themselves vulnerable in the current global cyberattack.) Many updates involve patches and security enhancements for vulnerabilities that companies such as Apple and Microsoft work constantly to find and repair. If they've already identified a vulnerability in an operating system, chances are cyber-criminals have too. The easiest targets are computers running on yesterday's patches.