Plenty of movies, books, and TV shows have featured plotlines in which someone is kidnapped, leaving behind distraught family members whom the kidnappers contact with ransom demands. The drama is always full of twists and turns and the uncertainty that the kidnapping victim will make it back home safe and sound. Unfortunately, cybercriminals can apply the same concept to your devices or network, kidnapping your data and demanding a ransom to get it back. The tool they use is called ransomware, malicious software that infiltrates your system, encrypting it to block your access.
There are a variety of ways your system can become infected with ransomware. It can be as simple as clicking on a link or opening an attachment sent in a fraudulent email, installing unsecured or malicious software you believed was safe or inserting a removable storage device such as a USB drive or SD card. To lure you in, scammers often use social engineering techniques – those that are designed to prey on your human weaknesses or manipulate your feelings.
Once it infects your system, the malware encrypts your data and displays a message demanding payment for your data to be restored. The message may include threats of releasing the data to the public, which could be especially concerning if you have stored financial or personally identifying information on your infected device.
As scary as ransomware seems, there are ways to avoid these criminals’ attempts at turning you into their latest social engineering victim. Here are some top tips:
Don’t click links or open attachments. When you receive an email you didn’t expect, do your research. Does the message make sense? Are there strange grammatical or spelling errors in it? Does it include threatening or urgent-sounding language? If the answer is yes to any of these, the message is likely a “phishing” attempt designed to make you the victim of fraud.
Get virus and malware protection. A good malware and virus program can detect harmful downloads and stop them in their tracks. It is vital to keep the program updated, so your system is always protected against the latest-known threats.
Use a firewall. Most devices have built-in firewall protection, so it is as simple as checking your system’s settings to ensure your firewall is on. Firewalls help keep attackers out of your system.
Keep your data backed up. You can restore your data if your system is infected with malware. Backing up your information is an essential strategy for overcoming hardware and other system failures, which is important for many reasons. You have many options for backing up your data, including:
- Cloud storage, which uploads your data to a secure server. You can access your data from a specific device with the proper login credentials.
- File duplication automatically creates and stores copies of files you create and update daily.
- External data backups, typically uploads to a storage device like an external hard drive. A data backup program on your system can be scheduled to back up your data as often as you like automatically and will put a copy of the backup on the storage device.
If you become a victim of ransomware, don’t panic. The best thing to do is disable your network, which may prevent further infection or total data loss. This may mean unplugging your modem and router. You will also want to power down any other data-storing devices on that same network. Then, report the ransomware attack to the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Internet Crime Complaint Center.
It’s generally a bad idea to pay the ransom demanded. Paying the ransom rarely means getting your data back, making you more vulnerable to further crimes. Your best strategy is to reinstall your operating system and restore your data from a backup – or enlist a professional’s help.
While it is not easy to recover from a ransomware attack, it is possible. Avoiding a ransomware attack in the first place is easier, so be sure to follow our tips to stay safe.