8 Tips for Staying Safe from Ransomware Attacks

Tips & Advice

What is Ransomware?

Over the past year, you may have seen the term ransomware popping up frequently. There’s good reason for that as ransomware is responsible for 21% of all cyberattacks, according to a new report. For enterprising hackers, this tactic has become standard operating procedure because it’s effective and organizations are willing to pay. But what does that mean for you and living a confident life online? Fortunately, there are a number of things individuals can do to avoid ransomware. But first, let’s start with the basics.  

Ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information at ransom. The hacker uses it to encrypt a user or organization’s critical data so that they cannot access files, databases, or applications. A ransom is then demanded to provide access. It is a growing threat, generating billions of dollars in payments to cybercriminals and inflicting significant damage and expenses for businesses and governmental organizations.  

Why should I care?

McAfee Labs counted a 60% increase in attacks from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020 in the United States alone. Unfortunately, the attacks targeting organizations also impact the consumers who buy from them, as the company’s data consists of its customers’ personal and financial information. That means your data if you’ve done business with the affected company. Fortunately, there are many ways you can protect yourself from ransomware attacks.

How do I know if my information is vulnerable?

When a company is hit with a ransomware attack, they typically are quick to report the incident, even though a full analysis of what was affected and how extensive the breach may have been may take much longer. Once they have the necessary details they may reach out to their customers via email, through updates on their site, social media, or even the press to report what customer data may be at risk. Paying attention to official communications through these various channels is the best way to know if you’ve been affected by a ransomware attack.  

The connection between phishing and ransomware 

The top ransomware infection vectors – a fancy term for the way you get ransomware on your device – are phishing and vulnerability exploits. Of these two, phishing is responsible for a full 41% of ransomware infections. Ironically, this is good news, because phishing is something we can learn to spot and avoid by educating ourselves about how scammers work. Before we get into specific tips, know that phishing can take the form of many types of communications including emails, texts, and voicemails. Also know that scammers are convincingly imitating some of the biggest brands in the world to get you to surrender your credentials or install malware on your device. With that in mind, here are several tips to avoid getting phished. 

1. Be cautious of emails asking you to act  

If you receive an email, call, or text asking you to download software or pay a certain amount of money, don’t click on anything or take any direct action from the message. Instead, go straight to the organization’s website. This will prevent you from downloading malicious content from phishing links or forking over money unnecessarily. 

2. Hover over links to see and verify the URL 

If someone sends you a message with a link, hover over the link without clicking on it. This will allow you to see a link preview. If the URL looks suspicious, don’t interact with it and delete the message altogether. 

3. Go directly to the source 

Instead of clicking on a link in an email or text message, it’s always best to check directly with the source to verify an offer, request, or link. 

4. Browse with caution 

McAfee offers the free McAfee WebAdvisor, which can help identify malicious websites and suspect links that may be associated with phishing schemes. 

Put ransomware fears in your rearview mirror with these tips: 

If you do get ransomware, the story isn’t over. Below are 8 remediation tips that can help get your data back, along with your peace of mind. 

1. Back up your data  

If you get ransomware, you’ll want to immediately disconnect any infected devices from your networks to prevent the spread of it. This means you’ll be locked out of your files by ransomware and be unable to move the infected files. Therefore, it’s crucial that you always have backup copies of them, preferably in the cloud and on an external hard drive. This way, if you do get a ransomware infection, you can wipe your computer or device free and reinstall your files from backup.  Backups protect your data, and you won’t be tempted to reward the malware authors by paying a ransom. Backups won’t prevent ransomware, but they can mitigate the risks.

2. Change your credentials 

If you discover that a data leak or a ransomware attack has compromised a company you’ve interacted with, act immediately and change your passwords for all your accounts. And while you’re at it, go the extra mile and create passwords that are seriously hard to crack with this next tip.

3. Take password protection seriously 

When updating your credentials, you should always ensure that your password is strong and unique. Many users utilize the same password or variations of it across all their accounts. Therefore, be sure to diversify your passcodes to ensure hackers cannot obtain access to all your accounts at once, should one password be compromised. You can also employ a password manager to keep track of your credentials and generate secure login keys.   

4. Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication 

Two or multi-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security, as it requires multiple forms of verification. For instance, you’ll be asked to verify your identity through another device, such as a phone. This reduces the risk of successful impersonation by hackers.   

5. Browse safely online 

Be careful where you click. Don’t respond to emails and text messages from people you don’t know, and only download applications from trusted sources. This is important since malware authors often use social engineering to get you to install dangerous files. Using a security extension on your web browser is one way to browse more safely.

6. Only use secure networks 

Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks, since many of them are not secure, and cybercriminals can snoop on your internet usage. Instead, consider installing a VPN, which provides you with a secure connection to the internet no matter where you go.    

7. Never pay the ransom 

While it is often large organizations that fall prey to ransomware attacks, you can also be targeted by a ransomware campaign. If this happens, don’t pay the ransom. Although you may feel that this is the only way to get your encrypted files back, there is no guarantee that the ransomware developers will send a decryption tool once they receive the payment. Paying the ransom also contributes to the development of more ransomware families, so it’s best to hold off on making any payments. Thankfully there are free resources devoted to helping you like McAfee’s No More Ransomware initiative McAfee, along with other organizations, created www.nomoreransom.org/ to educate the public about ransomware and, more importantly, to provide decryption tools to help people recover files that have been locked by ransomware. On the site you’ll find decryption tools for many types of ransomware, including the Shade ransomware.

7. Use a comprehensive security solution 

Adding an extra layer of security with a solution such as McAfee® Total Protection, which includes Ransom Guard, can help protect your devices from these cyber threats. In addition, make sure you update your devices’ software (including security software!) early and often, as patches for flaws are typically included in each update. Comprehensive security solutions also include many of the tools we mentioned above and are simply the easiest way to ensure digital wellness online.  

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