In May 2017, a massive-scale attack called WannaCry crippled individuals and businesses across 150 countries. A group of hackers froze their data and PCs, making them useless, unless they agreed to pay a certain amount. The figures ranged from $300 to $600, which they had to pay through cryptocurrency (bitcoin).
This is an example of a ransomware attack, one of the frightening cybercrimes today but also something preventable in many ways.
What Is Ransomware?
As its name suggests, ransomware means holding something hostage unless you pay the amount these criminals demand. This method is not new. A couple of years ago, a police station in the United States failed to access their important documents due to ransomware.
However, as the technologies improve, so do the tactics of criminals, making it harder for you and the authorities to catch the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Moreover, like a lot of things online, the crime itself can evolve.
Ransomware is dangerous for plenty of reasons. One, it can halt processes, and if it’s huge and simultaneous, it can lead to an economic or even a government downfall. While you can always choose not to pay and get yourself a new PC, it doesn’t mean they can stop harassing you. They can still trace your IP address, access your data, and use it for malicious activities like identity theft. They can blackmail you, forcing you to pay more money.
What You Can Do
Unfortunately, you don’t have any control on when and where it’s going to happen. But the sooner you can accept it exists, the better it is for you. You can take proactive steps to prevent yourself from becoming a victim:
Don’t download attachments immediately.
Ransomware attacks don’t happen immediately. In fact, these hackers don’t even try to guess your passwords. Rather, they exploit vulnerabilities in your actions and PC. One of these is attachments.
Malware, an infection that allows hackers to enter and manipulate your computer and data, can enter by concealing itself inside an attachment. Once you download it, you are also running the malware on your PC.
When dealing with attachments, don’t download them if they come with unknown extensions (i.e., they’re not .doc, .xls, etc.). Don’t click on them either if you’re not expecting to receive one from anyone including your colleagues. Moreover, before you download, you can check with the sender if their emails contain an attachment. Lastly, keep your antivirus software and anti-malware software running. Many of them already have the capability to confirm the quality of the attachment before you download it.
Update your operating system.
One of the affected organizations during the WannaCry ransomware attack was the NHS (National Health Service). It rendered more than 35 of its trusts non-operational. In turn, they couldn’t provide healthcare services including emergency care. Upon investigation, the hackers entered the system through an outdated Microsoft XP operating system.
Operating systems like Windows release new versions and updates not only to introduce new features but to also keep your system safe. This is because they would also send patches that help fix bugs and other vulnerabilities. But they don’t provide a lifetime support. With XP, Microsoft ended its extended support in 2014.
If you’re still using XP, you can download the security patch intended to prevent the WannaCry ransomware attack, but you have a far better option: get the newest version. You don’t need to change your device, just the operating system.
Then makes sure your OS will run the updates regularly. You can choose to do it manually, but when you’re busy, an update is the last thing on your mind. You can, therefore, let the system update automatically. It takes no more than 30 minutes to improve your defense.
Do you wonder how ransomware can spread quickly? The answer lies in the network. As long as there’s a vulnerable pathway, it can jump from one PC to another. Thus, to increase your protection further, let your colleagues know about the dangers and the ways to prevent ransomware. Encourage your IT team to organize a seminar about it. Create a reliable bring-your-own-device policy.
Protecting yourself against ransomware sure does take a lot of effort and money, but the rewards are priceless: peace of mind and protection.