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The stealthy cyber threat you should protect your PC from

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“!!! IMPORTANT INFORMATION !!! All of your files are encrypted with RSA-2048 and AES-128 ciphers”

Hopefully, your desktop has never been taken over by this kind of message. If the text looks familiar though, there are two options: you are well-informed about possible cyber threats, or you’ve recently become a victim of ransomware attack.

In the past decade, ransomware has grown to be one of the biggest cyber threats, targeting not only individuals but also organizations and businesses. So, what does ransomware exactly mean, how does it work and, most importantly, what steps can you take to ensure that ransomware doesn’t become a nightmare of yours?

Get to Know Your Enemy

Ransomware is a kind of malicious software that blocks victims’ access to their data and threatens to publish it if the victim doesn’t pay the ransom.

While there is basic ransomware, which damage may be easily reversed by a skilled person, advanced malware is smart enough to encrypt the victims’ files. After the ransom is paid, they may be decrypted. However, according to the CyberEdge 2018 Defense Report, less than half of 40% of victims, who actually paid attackers, didn’t get their data back. 87% of those who didn’t transfer the ransom for attackers got their data decrypted anyways. Does it make sense to agree with attacker’s offer? Let’s leave this rhetorical.

Different ransomware strains have different ways of distribution. Malicious ads, operating system or application vulnerabilities, email attachments or phishing links – these are the most common ways for criminals to infect an individual or a company. Even considering yourself sophisticated enough, you may be tricked into clicking on harmlessly-looking files such as a document that seems to be sent by your boss via email or invoice received by the company’s accountant. Yes, cyber attackers are well-prepared to trick even the smartest geeks.

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Prevention Is a Key

It doesn’t matter if you’ve already experienced a ransomware attack or not; it’s high time to start protecting your data. Here are some tips to help you prevent cyber attacks.

  1. Keep your backup process updated

One of the easiest yet most effective ways to protect your data from cybercriminals is reserving copies of your sensitive files. Increase the frequency of your backups and consider keeping the copies in different places. For example, try storing the data in the cloud and at the same time keep it in any physical location, such as an external hard drive. In case any dangerous infection reaches the data on your computer, you will simply have to erase all the files and restore them from one of the backups.

  1. Keep your software up to date

Updating the software may seem like a process a majority of people are willing to postpone. However, some facts may encourage you to ensure regular software updates.

For example, one of the most dangerous malware, called WannaCry, got people to download it through emails and this way infected their machines. It let the malicious code to get into a broader network of computers that were linked together through the Windows file-sharing system. It hurt even more after revealing that there was an available fix for this ransomware before the attack took place. Regular security updates could have helped to avoid the infection.

  1. Be careful about doubtful emails and pop-ups

It is recommended to develop a habit of being suspicious about the incoming data and pop-ups. A significant amount of ransomware manages to infect machines via email attachments or links. Therefore, keeping an eye and spotting fishy emails is a must.

How to do it? First of all, double-check the sender’s email address to make sure it is a legitimate one. See if the content of the email is grammatically correct and do not click on the links without hovering them over and checking whether they lead you to malicious websites. Don’t forget that legitimate companies, such as banks or internet service providers never ask for sensitive information such as social security number or passwords via email. So, if you receive a request like this, contact the company directly.

  1. Make sure your desktop shows file extensions

Windows hides file extensions by default meaning “malicious.doc.exe” file will be displayed as “malicious.doc”. Luckily, you can configure your desktop to show the full name, including the extension. This could help you to protect yourself from possible cyber threats.

The same goes for JavaScript files. Ransomware is often being delivered in .zip archives that contain malicious JavaScript files. You may see the displayed name “malicious.txt” instead of the full name of the file “malicious.txt.js”. It is recommended to disable the Windows Script Host for the prevention.

  1. Use a VPN with anti-virus software and a firewall aside

If you care about your online security, chances are, anti-virus software and a firewall are installed on your computer with no questions asked. However, using a VPN may add an extra layer of protection from malware, including ransomware. A VPN encrypts your data, allows you to access the websites anonymously by hiding your IP address and blacklists dubious URLs. So, even though a VPN is not a cure for all possible ransomware, it definitely boosts your level of security.

The truth is, ransomware is a serious threat, and additional everyday security should be taken as proper hygiene not only for organizations but individuals too. If you succeed in preparing yourself for the worst, cybercriminals won’t stand a chance infecting your device.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Just another guy who likes to write about tech and gadgets.

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