While working and storing information on computers has always had risks, and cybercriminals have been finding ways into systems and networks for many years, in the last few years, a particularly dangerous trend has been growing, and it’s known as ransomware.
There have been millions of individuals and businesses affected by ransomware around the world, and hackers seemed to have taken a liking to this kind of attack. As a result, while you might often put off thinking about online security for yourself and your family, it’s important to realize you are likely at risk right now unless you take steps to keep hackers at bay. Read on for a rundown on this latest tech issue and some key ways you can go about protecting yourself.
Ransomware is a particularly nasty strategy hackers use to make money and/or cause havoc. When going down this route, cybercriminals break into computer systems, which can belong to businesses, government departments, charities, individuals, etc. and hold for ransom the information they find there.
They do this by locking owners out of their own networks or devices or by deleting sensitive and important data. Hackers then say access to the information will be returned only if the victims pay them a certain amount of money – hence the term, ransom-ware.
How Does It Work?
As mentioned above, hackers can try a few different strategies with their ransomware attacks. Usually they lock people out of whole systems and make it so that the sale of a password is required for people to be able to unlock their site or computer and gain access again. Another version is where hackers encrypt the files they find and delete the original versions. After this, they make access to the data impossible unless a ransom is paid by the owners.
Sometimes, as an alternative, hackers find embarrassing, confidential or otherwise important information and threaten to release it in the public forum unless victims pay a ransom. This could happen if, for example, there are trade secrets no one would want getting out, or risqué photos or videos of an individual.
Sadly, even if people do decide to pay the ransom demanded of them, cybercriminals don’t always return access to information or keep things private. As such, ransomware is a very dangerous, and costly, attack that causes emotional distress and monetary losses for millions of people each year.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Ransomware
Thankfully, though, there are ways you can protect yourself, so you’ll have a reduced risk of being affected by this hacker technique. For example, start by installing quality security software on your computer. Look for the best PC protection or Mac security products you can find. Top options are comprehensive, covering malware, spyware, spam, viruses and ransomware. Adding firewalls is helpful too, because these give you an extra layer of protection and are beneficial when it comes to keeping hackers at bay while you’re using the internet.
You must use quality passwords on your computers and modem, too, to stop hackers from gaining access. Try to use different codes for difference machines, so if one does happen to get hacked at some point, all your devices won’t be vulnerable. Passwords that are hard for cybercriminals to hack are eight characters in length or more and made up of not just letters (both upper-case and lower-case), but also numbers and symbols. Update these passwords every few months for further security.
Next, back up your data. After all, if you have stored all of your important and/or sensitive files off-site, as a backup, if hackers do get into your systems, you can access the information elsewhere and won’t need to cough up any money. Just make sure, though, that this backup is secure, too. It’s best to have things stored in the cloud as well as on an external hard drive that is not always connected to your device.
Another way to stay safer is to update all of your systems often. Remember that security software, browsers, operating systems, plugins, games, apps and the like often end up with security gaps over time, which the manufacturers or developers find and create fixes for. However, if you don’t run the new versions once they’re released, your devices, drivers and software will still have these vulnerabilities, which hackers could take advantage of.