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Be on guard against ransomware—part one

Donovan Reed, EVP – Chief Lending Officer

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that encrypts the user’s files or blocks access to a computer system until the user pays the criminal a fee to release them. It can infect your PC, smartphones, tablet or other Internet-connected device through many delivery methods: downloading a new app, a Flash-based gaming site or an accidental click on a bad ad. Ransomware is often delivered through email via infected attachments and links that direct the user to an infected website.

There are over 400 families of ransomware, with one named CryptoLocker being the most prevalent. CryptoLocker hunts down and imprisons your personal documents via time-locked encryption. It is a sinister business, but millions are affected every year.

How can you prevent a ransomware attack?

There are several basic security measures you can take. The following tips apply primarily to personal computing devices, but they also include basic steps businesses can take. Remember that businesses are the primary victims of ransomware because they are much more lucrative targets. 

Don’t open questionable links, either on a webpage or especially in an email. The most common way you’ll encounter ransomware is by clicking on a bad link, so beware of opening emails or attachments you’re not expecting, especially from senders you do not know. Keep in mind that a bad ad on a legitimate site can still inject malware if you’re not careful, but the risks increase if you’re surfing where you shouldn’t be.

• Always use antivirus software and a firewall, and install the latest antivirus updates. You can fight ransomware and other malware by keeping your computer’s software defenses strong—not only your anti-virus program, but all of your application programs. Software vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle routinely announce and provide software upgrades, so take advantage of them.

Update your computer’s operating system regularly. In a recent widespread ransomware incident, only some versions of Microsoft Windows were struck (Apple computers were not affected, but they are not immune to ransomware). Updated operating systems offer more sophisticated virus protection, so it pays to update regularly.

Enable popup blockers. This helps prevent unwanted and potentially malicious ads from popping up on your screen.

Back up the files on your computer and mobile devices, and keep the backups offline. Ransomware encrypts and locks up the files that are most precious to you, so don’t leave them vulnerable. Take advantage of the free storage provided by Box, OneDrive, Google Drive, and others, and back up your data frequently. 

Other backup tips include:

• Invest in an external hard drive—routinely perform an incremental backup, then detach the drive to isolate that copy of your data.

• Burn files to a CD, if your computer is so equipped, or to a USB flash drive (thumb drive), which is an inexpensive tool that provides quick, easy storage.

• Invest in backup software to automates the process of making copies of files to external drives.

The processes of prevention, duplication and backup are designed to give you options if you are the victim of a ransomware attack. If you have copies of your data saved elsewhere, you may only need to reset your PC, reinstall your apps and restore your data from the backup.

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