Three Ways To Defend Against Ransomware Like Cryptolocker
Ransomware is rearing its ugly head again - in the forms of Cryptolocker, CryptoWall, Torrentlocker, Locky, TeslaCrypt, Petya, and many others. The number of cases is escalating due to the ease of running a ransomware operation, and the high return on investment (ROI) for the attackers. In 2015, the number of Cryptolocker attacks alone doubled from the prior year.
What is Ransomware?
“Ransomware is a type of malware that can be covertly installed on a computer without knowledge or intention of the user that restricts access to the infected computer system in some way, and demands that the user pay a ransom to the malware operators to remove the restriction.” - Wikipedia
Ransomware typically gets on someone’s computer through email attachments or malicious downloads from vulnerable or spoof websites. From there, it secures the ability to run behind the scenes, contacts its origin server for encryption keys, and then locks up your data.
Here are three excellent ways to protect against ransomware.
Outdated software and hardware can leave you defenseless. See a pop-up notification or email from an application you use prompting you to update the software? Do it.
Your software, operating system, and apps are most secure with the most recent version. It’s also a good practice to be updating regularly enough to know what the prompt & process looks like in order for you to spot malicious attempts.
A common vector for malware infections is to exploit software vulnerabilities - regularly updating your systems patches the holes that they are designed to slip through. If your software, servers, and applications operate without the latest updates, you run the risk of exploits and malware that prey on older versions.
This won’t prevent zero-day vulnerabilites from aiding malware, like with Adobe Flash, which is why you should also make sure you’re tuned in to tech security news and keeping up with web standards (like not using Flash anymore).
Training and education are often the best solutions to fighting and preventing most IT related nightmares (like malware and ransomware). Without it, your employees could be the ones enabling these attacks.
IT awareness training is usually multi-functional, in that learning how to spot a phishing attempt could not only prevent ransomware attacks but private information from leaking to public.
Some quick tips for identifying malicious websites or files:
- Check the URL of the website you’re visiting - if it doesn’t look legit, it might not be. Look for misspelled words, or a different domain name altogether, and if your Spidey sense tingles you should probably ask for a second opinion.
- If you’re in a portion of a website that deals with sensitive or private information, such as billing or account information, make sure the website is using https in the URL. Most browsers will check for this by default and highlight it. They can also display additional information on the website and their related permissions, cookies, etc.
- If you’re downloading a file, check the link and/or filename. If you’re only trying to download a single PDF from a billing screen, it definitely shouldn’t be a .exe or .zip file.
- When using a service or website you always do, memorize the details. It will make it easier to spot a fake when you see mistakes.
- Exercise caution when using a new service or interface for the first time. It’s healthy to be skeptical if a page looks different!
- Contact your service providers if you think something is off about their website or interface.
Keeping a full copy of your files backed up somewhere else is ultimately the best way to combat ransomware.
Due to the nature of ransomware like Cryptolocker, your files and/or computer may be completely inaccessible once the infection sets in. It’s neither fun nor easy, but a factory reset on your device, plus a thorough scan afterwards, is the surest way to remove the ransomware - it’s also why backups are the best defense.
While your backups could potentially pass on the infection, most major cloud storage providers will scan your data for malware and ransomware - preventing you from downloading or sharing the infected data with others. Local backups will still require some extra work on your end to ensure that they are clean and secure.
Even if you pay the ransom, you have little guarantee that all of your data will be decrypted and that the malicious software is gone - this is where backups come in handy. The average ransomware demand ranges from $300 to $10,000 or more, and the cost scales to your ability to pay larger sums, your geographic location, the size and type of data held ransom, and who you are. Paying the ransom is both the best thing you could do or the worst thing you could do, depending on who you ask.
With those figures in mind, you can easily budget for a reliable backup service - assuming you’re not already backing up your data. By the time you factor in disaster recovery, employee error, costly downtime, and all the liability reasons you should backup your data, making room in your budget for a backup service (like our very own app) is a no-brainer.
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