Are you concerned about the security of your data? No? Well, you really should be.
One of the most harmful types of cybercrime is ransomware. In fact, according to The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), ransomware grew by around 13% in 2022, which is higher than in the previous five years put together.
And, it’s not unusual for hackers and assailants to successfully demand substantial sums of money from their victims. Sometimes, they even demand millions of dollars! The worst part is that these victims pay the ransom without any guarantee that they’ll be getting their data back.
So, that pretty much highlights how big of a threat this is.
But, no need to panic, because we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll let you know everything about ransomware and how you can prevent and protect yourself from it.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is exactly what it sounds like it is: ransom malware. During a ransomware attack, the responsible hackers or cybercriminals get in touch with the victims and make demands, promising to unlock their computers or decrypt their files in exchange for a ransom, typically paid in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.
Basically, ransomware is a form of virus that prevents users from accessing their files and computer systems and demands a ransom in order to restore access. By using encryption to restrict access to infected files, this virus renders them useless and inaccessible to its victims. And, ransomware doesn’t just have one target, it attacks different types of files from sensitive company data to personal private documents.
Dr. Joseph Popp, an evolutionary scientist with a Harvard education, conducted the first known ransomware attack in 1989, also known as the AIDS Trojan or the PC Cyborg. Dr. Popp distributed his virus using floppy disks that seemed to include an AIDS education program and then shipped the infected disks to his victims. When the AIDS Trojan was active, it encrypted the files on the victim’s PC and demanded $189 as ransom to decrypt the files.
That’s a pretty long time ago. People now know more about it and this should make hackers turn away from this scheme. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? Well, not really. Although people are becoming more aware of this virus’ harmful potential in recent years, ransomware assaults still plague people, corporations, and governments.
Today, attackers can easily obtain open-source ransomware tools. Successful assaults can be incredibly profitable, earning some of the hijackers millions of dollars while putting people, businesses, or governments in the position of having to clean up the wreckage. Because of the possible incentives for cybercriminals, ransomware assaults have increased in recent years.
This was particularly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw another jump and an increase in cybercrime, including ransomware attacks on a number of hospitals, worsening an already dire situation.
Security Vulnerabilities You Should Be Wary Of
Now that you know what ransomware is and how it works, it’s best to be aware of the different factors that might make you fall prey to a ransomware attack. Let’s take a look at them:
- Outdated devices and software
Attackers frequently target users of old hardware or outdated operating systems because these have weaker security settings.
- Operating systems and/or browsers that aren’t patched anymore
Hackers frequently hunt for newly discovered exploits in patches and then attack systems that have not yet been patched.
- Insufficient cybersecurity
Antivirus programs are great at detecting malicious programs such as ransomware. But, if your cybersecurity doesn’t have anti-malware protection such as application whitelisting, then you are at much more risk of unauthorized applications executing on your device.
So, if one or more of these conditions apply to your device, then you are vulnerable to a ransomware attack. Luckily, your gadget can avoid getting infected and we’ll let you know how in the next section.
How To Prevent Ransomware Attacks And Protect Your Data
As scary as malware sounds, you can do several things to prevent it. We’ll explain them to you in detail.
1. Update your devices regularly
Making sure that all your operating systems and software are up to date with the most recent security patches and upgrades is one of the most crucial safety measures that you can take to prevent ransomware attacks.
Hackers target well-known flaws in your devices to gain access to your system’s files and data. By routinely updating your operating system and software, you would lower the possibility of a successful ransomware attack.
So, the next time your device asks you to update something, it’s best not to ignore it. You can also activate automatic updates for some devices and programs so that updates can happen without your intervention.
2. Activate multi-factor authentication
In order to access your device, account, and information, hackers must pass through extra security checkpoints and authentication layers with multi-factor authentication (MFA). As a result, the cybercriminal will have to invest more time, energy, and money in order to gain access to your device before any ransomware attacks can start.
Before giving access to an account, MFA normally requires a combination of two or more of the following authentication types:
- Something that the user is aware of (PIN, password, or passphrase)
- Something owned by the user (smartcard, tangible token)
- Something that a user is (fingerprint, iris scan)
If you want to take your security to the next level, then it’s best to prioritize enabling MFA for essential services like remote access or emails.
3. Create hard-to-guess passwords
Whether your accounts support multi-factor authentication or not, you should always use a unique password. What this means is that you should never use the same password for different accounts. By doing this, you can prevent the spread of ransomware and avoid getting your accounts compromised.
4. Install a strong antivirus software
You can only be harmed by ransomware if it can get to you. This is why you need strong antivirus software. Reliable cybersecurity apps such as Avast and Kaspersky are great at detecting and preventing malware and viruses. These apps not only assist you with detection and prevention, but they’re also great at removing unauthorized apps on your device.
And, just like what we mentioned earlier, it’s also best to keep your antivirus up to date. No matter how strong your antivirus is, cybercriminals can still find exploits, especially with how malware is evolving.
With that said, no matter what antivirus software you end up using, we recommend being familiar with real alerts. For instance, sometimes websites will display a bogus warning to entice you to click on a dangerous link. But if you know how antivirus warnings normally look like, you can easily avoid dodgy pop-ups and links.
5. Securely backup all of your data
Even a system with strong antivirus software can become vulnerable. If this occurs, you must ensure that your critical data can be recovered with a backup.
A backup is essentially a digital copy of your most crucial data such as images, client information, or financial records, which is stored in an external storage system such as the cloud.
The best cloud storage services out there are a great option for backups. Vulnerabilities in cloud-based designs are more challenging to exploit than those in on-premise systems. Not only that, but you can also securely restore earlier versions of your data using cloud storage options. This means that if ransomware encrypts your files, you should be able to restore an unencrypted version of it.
Basically, restoring from an uninterrupted backup is the best way to recover from a ransomware attack. That’s why you should regularly perform file backups either on an external storage device or to the cloud. Creating backups and verifying that they can restore your files might just provide you peace of mind.
Take Your Security to the Next Level
Ransomware is one of today’s most prevalent and devastating cyber threats, with potentially severe results.
But, if you stick to our advice above, you’ll be able to successfully guard against potential assaults on your network, business, and yourself.
A well-defined plan for the security of your systems and data will lower the risk of a successful ransomware attack. By making sure you apply any necessary security upgrades on schedule, and back up both your on-site and off-site vital data, you’re pretty much as good as safe.