Everything you need to know to prevent a Ransomware attack
Hackers attacked thousands of organisations this week in as many as 99 countries across the world but it can affect individuals using old operating systems. The systems with no active antivirus software are the most endangered ones.
A cyber-attack brought some Indian low-key business to a standstill this week with victims being demanded a ‘bitcoin’ ransom. The amount was not consistent for every victim. The things that stayed common amongst the victims spread across 100 countries were threats of doubling the ransom amount for late payers and total loss of data who fail/refuse to pay.
The ransomware virus affected computers across nearly a hundred countries with Europol describing the attack as of “unprecedented level”.
The modus operandi is simple. Hackers lock victims out of their computers and demand a ransom to unlock it.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of cyber-attack software tool that sees hackers take control of computers, tablets or smartphones and demand a payment.
Often the hackers trick the user into downloading malicious software – using a dodgy email or app – and encrypt the victim’s information.
You can’t use the device while the hackers control it and if you don’t pay they threaten to increase the ransom or delete your files.
Usually, the ransom amounts to a few hundred pounds and has to be paid in Bitcoins, a controversial digital currency.
Who was targeted by the ransomware attack?
The hackers targeted thousands of organisations in as many as 100 countries but they can also be used against individuals. Around 40 hospital trusts across Britain were forced to cancel operations and turn patients away on Friday.
Here are a few ways you can protect yourself from ransomware:
Software providers like Microsoft will often ask you to install updates and restart your computer and, although it’s annoying, always do this as they often contain new programmes fixing vulnerabilities in your system that hackers are trying to exploit.
A reason why the ransomware attack affected so many British hospitals this week was because they were still using Windows XP – an old operating system first released in 2001.
Back up your files
Losing valuable documents and treasured pictures is the greatest damage a ransomware attack can cause so copy them onto a different device for safekeeping.
A good way is to use an external hard drive that isn’t connected to the internet so if you do lose control of your computer you won’t lose the files on there.
Ransomware only works if hackers can trick victims into downloading malicious software onto their computer which they can then use to control the device.
The most common way to do this is by asking a user to download a file from an email, clicking on a link, or use an app.
Users should be very cautious about what they download and particularly if they are asked to do so in an unsolicited email.
It’s also a good idea to only download approved apps on your phones and to check user reviews before doing so.
Use an antivirus program
As well as updating your computer’s operating system it is a good idea to download an antivirus programme for extra protection.
They can stop you from accidentally downloading ransomware by scanning emails before you open them and can block malicious software from installing themselves on your computer.
Often you will have to pay for this service but there are also free-to-use options.
Never pay the ransom
Victims are advised never to pay the ransom as it encourages hackers to keep doing them and doesn’t guarantee that you will get your files back.
Hackers usually require the ransom to be paid using Bitcoin which, although not illegal, is controversial and difficult to do.