How to protect your devices from ransomware

Welcome to Threat Intel’s #WednesdayWisdom column, a weekly read to help improve your cybersecurity knowledge and keep you informed on important developments.

Ransomware.

It’s been the word on everyone’s lips in the world of cybersecurity for the last couple of years, but it really moved to the forefront during 2016.

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the files on your device, making them inaccessible. The ransomware authors then typically demand that you pay a ransom — most often in Bitcoin—to obtain the key needed to decrypt the files.

Don’t get locked out by ransomware

Stories of educational and healthcare institutions paying large ransoms to decrypt their files made headlines in 2016. Meanwhile, the once desktop computer based threat has now migrated throughout the IT ecosystem to impact mobile phones and even ‘smart’ TVs.

Ransomware authors’ methods are evolving too. In late 2016, the Popcorn Time ransomware emerged. You could escape this ransomware’s grip without spending any money — by passing it on to your ‘friends’. If two people downloaded the ransomware at your ‘recommendation’ the ransomware authors said they would unlock your computer for free.

However, you might have lost a few friends along the way.

You could pay a high price for infecting your ‘friends’ with ransomware

Meanwhile, other ransomware authors just wanted to educate you. The Koolova ransomware would unlock your files if you read two articles on cybersecurity.

However, the hard facts are most ransomware authors are after your money, and aren’t on some crusade to educate you.

For victims, a bigger problem is that even paying a ransom cannot guarantee that you will regain access to your files — with some files that become a victim of ransomware lost to their owners forever, even if they pay the ransom.

With that in mind, follow these tips to keep your devices free of ransomware.

Top tips to ensure you don’t get locked out by ransomware

  • Regularly back up any files stored on your computer. If your computer does become infected with ransomware, your files can be restored once the malware has been removed.
  • Always keep your security software up to date, on all your devices, including mobile, to protect yourself against any new variants of malware.
  • Keep your operating system and other software updated. Software updates will frequently include patches for newly discovered security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.
  • Delete any suspicious-looking emails you receive, especially if they contain links or attachments.
  • Be extremely wary of any Microsoft Office email attachment that advises you to enable macros to view its content. Unless you are absolutely sure that this is a genuine email from a trusted source, do not enable macros and instead immediately delete the email.
  • On mobile devices, refrain from downloading apps from unfamiliar sites and only install apps from trusted sources. Also, pay close attention to the permissions requested by apps.

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