Ransomware attacks, where a hacker uses malware that encrypts or locks an individual or businesses valuable files and systems, then demands a random to unlock them, is on the rise.
These attacks have become commonplace, adding one more reason why consumers need to increase their efforts to protect and secure their systems, as well as limit any damage in the event of an attack, says Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of MyCyberCare.
“There’s no doubt that ransomware has become the most nefarious and pervasive type of malware, affecting millions of individuals around the world. Although several versions have been written, they all share common characteristics.”
He says unlike the majority of malware that relies on stealth to achieve its ends, ransomware is right in the user’s face. “Once a PC is infected, it becomes inoperable and the data inaccessible. A large warning will flash on the screen, telling the user he has no hope of gaining access to his machine unless a ransom is paid, usually in a cryptocurrency.”
Unfortunately, in most cases, once the machine is infected, paying the ransom is the only hope of getting the information back, although it is not guaranteed. “We strongly advise against this. Not only does it encourage the authors to spread this scourge, but there is no guarantee of getting your data back. While it is often the most cost effective option, it is tantamount to extortion and should not be encouraged.”
He says an individual’s best hope is to prevent ransomware in the first place. “This particular piece of malware is usually sent via emails, in which a user is told to download a document or click on a link that contains malicious code. Surprisingly, although people have been warned for over a decade not to click on any links or attachments from unknown sources, they still do. Time and time again.”
Campbell-Young advises users to follow several steps to prevent infection. “Ensure that anti-malware, firewalls, operating system and software updates are kept 100% up to date. Do not delay or postpone updates, do them as soon as you are notified.”
Secondly, make data backup a priority. “Regular backups will ensure that should the worst case scenario occur, the most you will have lost is a day’s worth of work or information. Back up to a cloud service, and to an external drive, and make sure you maintain at the minimum one good copy of your backups without overwriting it.”
Next he says to be vigilant and aware of your online behaviour. “No security tool or solution out there can protect against user stupidity or carelessness. Be clever with your email and don’t click on links before ensuring they are 100% safe. Don’t visit dodgy Web sites. Don’t click on links in Facebook messages that appear to come from friends, but seem unusual. Stop falling for the ‘click here to win something for free’ type links too. Don’t download any documents or pdfs that may be anomalous. Double check email addresses, and look for unusual extensions, or misspelling of names. Attackers often slip in an extra letter or number that would usually pass all but closer scrutiny.”
However, says Campbell-Young, despite our best efforts, people do fall victim to ransomware, and over and above prevention, mitigation and response is key. “Consider having a personal cyber insurance policy in place. These will protect users from all sorts of threats and frauds, and will guarantee they don’t lose money in these events. These policies specifically cover ransomware, and will offer professional assistance on how to respond to an attack of this nature, and will event see that the ransom is paid, should this action be approved.”