Practical Hints for Guarding Against Phishing and Ransomware
The new decade will bring with it a host of new security concerns for computer owners. The most aggressive and insidious of these concerns is Ransomware. Here's how to guard yourself against it.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is malicious software that gets installed on a computer that (insanely short description to follow) locks up and holds the data on your computer for a ransom. Once infected with ransomware computer owners often have to pay a fee to get the files unlocked again. This fee can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands or more!
What Kinds of Files are Affected by Ransomware?
Just about any data that's valuable to a computer owner can and will likely be crippled...
- Word documents
- Quickbooks and Quicken files
- Videos, Adobe Acrobat (pdf) files
- Just about any file that contains important information
What is Phishing?
Phishing is an ingenious way to get computer owners to take an action that will divulge personal information or infect their own computers with Ransomware. Phishing usually comes in the form of an email. The email is often crafted in a way that misleads the recipient into thinking the message is legitimate. The message may appear to come from a friend or colleague or formatted in a way that causes the recipient to act out of emotions ("Your account has been locked!"). With regard ransomware, a phishing email will typically contain a link or an attachment that, once opened or clicked, infects the computer.
How Do I Guard Against Ransomware and Phishing?
- Be Skeptical. Think twice (maybe even 3x) before clicking on any link or attachment that you receive via email. Give it some thought! Did you expect to receive the email? Are you acting out of emotion instead of thoughtfulness? Does it makes sense that this person or company would be sending an email to you?
- Look for typos. Seriously! Inspect any suspicious email for spelling or grammatical errors. Many phishing attempts come from people who don't speak English natively. Because of this many phishing attempts contain subtle clues in the form of misspelled words or words used out of order. If you find something like this you should be ultra careful.
- Pick up the phone. If you suspect you might be getting Phished, call the person or company who sent it to you. If they confirm that they did indeed send you an email, then go ahead and click that link or attachment. It might take a few minutes out of your day to confirm an email, but that few minutes may literally save you days of agony.
- Use High Quality, Paid Internet Security. You get what you pay for! Don't assume that the Internet Security program that came pre-installed on your computer will guard effectively against threats. Helpomatic strongly recommends subscribing to and using a reputable Internet Security program from software vendors like ESET or Kaspersky (sorry McAfee people... you're likely at more risk than you know).
- Back Up Your Computer. Having your data saved to a cloud location like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, is NOT considered a true backup. These services are only a mirror of the files that you keep on your computer. If the file on your computer gets locked it will eventually get copied to your cloud location. If your computer does get infected by ransomware you'll be in a much better position to recover if you use a program like Acronis True Image.
I'm Infected! Now What?!?
If the infection only just occurred your very best option is to shut down your computer IMMEDIATELY! The more time you waste, the more files will become inaccessible. Unfortunately, you probably won't even know that you've been infected... but if you're at all suspicious that you were, shutting down the computer will stop ransomware from infecting your files further. Afterwards, take your computer to a reputable computer shop, explain the situation, and ask them to recover files from your system manually.
If you didn't realize that you were infected and your files are now all crippled, there are really only two viable options to people who get their computer infected with ransomware:
- Restore from Backup. Do you have a backup of your data? Good on you! The method used for restoring your data safely depends largely on the method you used for backup. If you've backed up your files to an external drive make certain to NEVER attach that external drive to an infected computer. If you're unsure about how to proceed with restoring data safely, call Helpomatic.
- Pay the Ransom. Not only does ransomware lock up the files on a computer, but it also leaves behind files that provide instruction on how to pay the ransom and unlock the files. If the data is important to you, and you don't have a backup, and if you can afford to pay the ransom being demanded, this may be the only option you have to regain access to your data. If you're unsure about how to pay the ransom and recovery your files, call Helpomatic.
- Start from Scratch. If the prior two options aren't viable for you, your only real avenue is to cut your losses, say goodbye to your precious data, and move forward.
Want to guard against data loss due to ransomware? Be careful what you click on and keep good backups! If you need assistance, call Helpomatic at 717-283-2323.