The internet is full of threats, but ransomware is one of the most covert and damaging of today’s online threats. Ransomware can lock entire businesses out of their systems until the demands are met, and when that happens, your entire system is left exposed. Ransomware has a long history of causing extensive damage to personal and business networks, and it’s time to start taking threats like this a bit more seriously.
In today’s guide, we’ll take a closer look at four easy ways to protect yourself from one of the web’s most vicious and hard-to-spot threats. We’ll cover everything from avoiding suspicious emails to ensuring all of your software is up to date to avoid holes in your security.
If you’ve never heard the term ransomware, you’re probably wondering what it actually is. Ransomware is actually simple: it’s a program that locks a user out of the system until a “ransom” is met. Usually, this will be monetary; the hacker will demand a specific amount of money be sent to an anonymous account, and then will restore access to the user.
The problem with that is the hacker has already gained access to your system, so even if you pay the ransom, you could be in danger sometime in the future. Getting hacked by ransomware shows that there’s a vulnerability somewhere, and the hacker will more than likely exploit that again.
Ransomware dates back to about 1989 and has since evolved to become incredibly sophisticated. There have been numerous high-profile attacks using ransomware, so it’s a threat everyone should take seriously.
Let’s look at how we can protect ourselves from ransomware.
1. Don’t Open Suspicious Emails Or Download Attachments
While you might think this is an easy thing to remember, every year thousands fall victim to phishing and ransomware attacks from suspicious emails. Much like phishing emails, ransomware emails can use social engineering to manipulate the email user into opening the email—and they’ve become much more sophisticated.
We’ve all seen at least one phishing or ransomware email. You’ll probably recognize emails like “LOTTO WINNER CLICK HERE”, or “YOU’VE BEEN CHOSEN FOR A SPECIAL OFFER”. The golden rules for emails are:
- If you don’t know who the sender is, don’t open it
- Never download any attachments from strange email addresses
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t open it
- If you’re expecting an email from someone and you’re unsure of the address, scan emails with a virus scanner first
- The Nigerian prince scam is still going strong, so don’t open that email!
2. Create Better Passwords
Even if you have the best ransomware protection, poor passwords can quickly expose you to threats like ransomware. A good password can act as a wall between the hacker and your information, whereas a bad password is more like a door with a broken lock. Unfortunately, people don’t take passwords seriously enough, with about 65% of internet users reusing a single password multiple times. There are a few important password rules that everyone should follow.
- Never share a password
- Use a password manager to secure passwords
- Don’t use self or company-identifying info in passwords
- Don’t use dictionary phrases or words
- Passwords should be longer than 13 characters when possible
- Use a unique combination of numbers, upper and lower-case numbers, and symbols
- Don’t use repeating characters
- Never ever recycle a password across multiple accounts
Why is the recycling rule so important? Let’s imagine you’ve used the same password for several accounts for years now, including your social media accounts, bank and credit card accounts, and your crypto wallet. A hacker sends you a suspicious email, you open it, and the virus reveals your passwords and installs ransomware.
Now, you’re locked out of all of your accounts until you meet the hacker’s demands, and he has access to multiple accounts with a single password. He can funnel money from your credit cards and bank accounts, steal your cryptocurrency, and wreak havoc on your social media.
The bottom line? Don’t recycle passwords. Use a password manager to protect your information.
3. Don’t Limit Yourself To Just One Cybersecurity Tool
Many people (and even businesses) limit themselves to just one cybersecurity tool, such as antivirus software. The problem with this is that by limiting yourself to one too, you’re providing only one layer for the hacker to get through. If you’re only using antivirus software, your passwords can still be at risk. If you’re only using a password manager, you can’t scan emails for suspicious activity.
Multi-layer protection is the only way to bolster your cybersecurity without spending a fortune. Even something as simple as multi-factor authentication can make your accounts more secure, and most online programs offer MFA in some form.
4. Update Your Software
One of the greatest (and most overlooked) vulnerabilities in cybersecurity is outdated software. If you’re running outdated software, your entire system can be vulnerable to attack. Outdated software isn’t up-to-date with the latest virus definitions, or might have protections in place that are no match for newer, more sophisticated viruses and threats.
If you can, set your software to always automatically update, so you’re never in the dark. This will help your software run smoother and protect you from potential threats.